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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Redefining the Language

Nicked from the comments on another website:

“What is incredible is how many churches pay people full time to be ‘worship music leaders’. They are given status equal to the pastor.”

What is appalling here is not so much that “worship music leaders” are given any status at all in modern Christian thinking, nor is it that they are paid a salary to do a job in today’s evangelical churches that has no precedent in the New Testament church and no authority from scripture, though both of these facts are certainly regrettable.

No, it’s that the accepted term of comparison is “the pastor”. The status of that equally modern and unbiblical role is assumed uncritically, entirely by default, and near-universally.

In other words, the people who see clergy in the Bible where it doesn’t exist have successfully redefined the language we use about servants of God.

Together for the Gospel

But rewriting the basic assumptions of Christianity (along with appropriating biblical terms to describe unbiblical, modern practices) is not new. For another successful exercise in revising biblical terminology, see the T4G (“Together for the Gospel”) biennial conference for “pastors”.

First conceived a decade ago out of “a friendship between four pastors from across denominational traditions” as a way of promoting the centrality of the gospel across denominational lines (not the worst idea ever), I am told T4G has evolved into a vehicle to unabashedly push the entire Reformed theological agenda.

That agenda includes: Five Point (TULIP) Calvinism (thoroughly dissected by our own IC in a series you can find on the left column of our home page, starting here); Covenant Theology (the Calvinist framework for scripture interpretation that blurs the biblical distinction between Israel and the Church); Amillennialism (the teaching that the thousand year reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6 is merely an allegory for the present church age, rather than literal and future); and now Complementarianism.

Tolerances vary for the Reformed view of scripture, and the degree to which each of these agenda items is overtly pushed at T4G is not uniform. But what does seem reasonable is that T4G should cease promoting the conference as non-denominational (though Reformed is not a denomination exactly; it’s more like a super-denomination that includes Presbyterians, Reformed Baptist, some Methodists and others).

“Together for the Gospel” may seem like an umbrella big enough for thinking evangelicals of all types, but not if the conference essentially serves as a Reformed Theology primer. And while a discussion of biblical gender roles is timely, waving the “Complementarian” flag at the preconference is a bit of a tell that T4G is hewing to the Reformed line of thinking on that subject too.

Reformed theologians have also successfully redefined plenty of biblical expressions: among others, the words “sovereignty” (divine determinism), “dead” (incapable of spiritual response), “faith” (a work) and “Israel” (the Church) mean significantly different things in Reformed circles. Conference attendees unaware of the differences may have no clue what they are in for.

Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

I always save the best for last. This year’s preconference is entitled The Beauty of Complementarity.

Complementarianism is the John Piper/Wayne Grudem understanding of Christian gender roles that has continued to gain traction with evangelicals since the word was coined in 1991. It’s Piper’s baby, and in theory it’s a perfectly defensible biblical concept (the equality before God of the sexes displayed through different roles for men and women in home and church). But Piper himself has been caught trying to apply his concept to society generally on more than one occasion, making some evangelicals squirm.

Other self-professed complementarians have also strayed off the reservation at times, specifically the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), the organization responsible for the T4G preconference. The CBMW has shown increasing discomfort with the biblical ideas of headship and submission.

And since we’re talking about redefining biblical terminology, it does seem just a little odd that the CBMW is running point for Piper’s gender role concept. Other than his dubious ventures into the subject of secular gender roles, Piper has been pretty solid on the subject of relationships. The CBMW, on the other hand, has been taken to task for using the word “headship” to describe a husband’s submission to his wife’s desires and “submission” to describe a state resembling passive-aggressive dominance. Even their founding document disparages female “servility”.

Wouldn’t it be just a touch ironic if Piper’s own gender role theology is appropriated and reframed for him by the CBMW crowd while Piper’s Reformed theologians are busy co-opting T4G?

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