Sunday, March 26, 2023

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (26) says, “A straw man argument is a logical fallacy in which an arguer distorts an opposing point of view and misrepresents it … creating the impression of refuting an argument rather than addressing or refuting it.” That’s as good a definition as any, and will do for our purposes.

Rick Warren is a Southern Baptist pastor and author who has become one of the most influential evangelicals of our day. He is also very well acquainted with the straw man argument, though he probably doesn’t put that on his resume.

At the age of 69, after a lifetime teaching the Bible, Rick Warren has finally decided the Lord always intended women to teach in church. This is absolutely not, Warren says, based on culture or anecdotes or outside pressure, but based on the Bible.

Off the Rails

Here are Warren’s proof texts, along with his explanations of how they make his case for women teaching men in the church:

1/ Matthew 28:16-20

“The great commission: ‘Go, make disciples, baptize, teach.’ Well, you can’t say, ‘The first two are for men and women and the last two are only for men, or maybe ordained men.’ That’s eisegesis. Who authorized women to teach? Jesus. “All authority is given to me, therefore teach. All authority is given to me, therefore baptize.” You’ve got a problem with the great commission. I had to repent when I actually looked at the great commission. I had to say it’s not just for ordained men, it’s for everybody.”

2/ Acts 2:1-18

“On that day, at Pentecost, we know women were in the upper room. We know women were filled with the Holy Spirit. We know that women were preaching in languages that other people couldn’t hear to a mixed audience. We know women — not just men — were preaching on the day of Pentecost. How do we know that? Because Peter felt obligated to explain it.”

3/ John 20:11-18

“The very first Christian sermon, the message of the gospel of good news of the resurrection, Jesus chose a woman to deliver it to men. He had Mary Magdalene go and tell the disciples. Now, that clearly wasn’t an accident. It was intentional. It’s a whole new world, baby. Now he has a woman go tell the apostles. Can a woman teach an apostle? Evidently. He chose her to be the first preacher of the gospel.”

The Problem

All three of these arguments, by the way, have exactly the same fatal weakness: they don’t address the question at all, but pretend they do. Giving a personal testimony in a public place and teaching authoritatively in a church meeting and are two completely different things, apples and oranges.

Warren’s fellow evangelicals (most of us anyway) do not claim that scripture forbids women from sharing the good news informally, including with men. We do not claim they are forbidden to teach at all: evangelical women have been teaching Sunday Schools since well before I was born, and while I’m not quite Rick Warren’s age, I’ve seen a few summers. Of course we do not claim women are not included in the great commission. We do not claim women were not filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost or that they never spoke in tongues. When Warren implies this is the sort of argument he is countering, it is a deliberate attempt to make biblical opposition to his feminist pandering look unreasonable or ridiculous.

What we claim is that women are not permitted to teach scripture in the church meeting. There is a strong doctrinal basis for this belief. We did not pull it out of the air. It is not derived from an example, or inferred from who did what in the gospels or Acts, all of which predated the existence of church meetings and could not possibly have conformed to the teaching about church order that Paul had not yet received or shared with the churches.

What We Actually Believe

Before the early church received the book of Acts or any of the gospels in written form, it received this command from the apostle Paul:

“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

If we have difficulty with this teaching, we will have even greater difficulty with the fuller explanation he gives in 1 Timothy. There, Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” His two reasons are theological and based on human history, not Corinthian or Ephesian culture: “Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” These are the reasons not only evangelicals but most reasonably orthodox churches have not traditionally accepted the ordination of women or their vocal participation in church meetings as Bible teachers.

Bible historians use the internal evidence of scripture to date 1 Corinthians to around AD55, and the gospels and Acts to between five and eight years later. So when the early churches read about the great commission, Pentecost, or the “first Christian sermon”, they read them in the established context of Paul’s teaching about the role of women in the church, and would never have thought to set scripture against scripture as Warren does.

Straw Men Everywhere

Whoever said the great commission was “only for ordained men”? Do women have the authority of the Lord to share the gospel with their neighbors, friends, coworkers and acquaintances out in the world where the gospel belongs? Of course they do. More on point though, what has the great commission to do with church order? Absolutely nothing. It’s a big fat straw man.

As for Pentecost, it began in a house, but it was not a church meeting and there is no reason to expect the disciples conducted it like one. It certainly didn’t end as a church meeting: about three thousand souls were saved that day, and they couldn’t possibly have all heard the gospel in the room where the gathering began. At some point, those present took their tongues-speaking into the street where it could do its intended testimonial work to a nation under God’s judgment. Again, Pentecost has nothing to do with church order. It’s a big fat straw man.

Finally, the “very first Christian sermon” was not about a woman “teaching” men, and it certainly didn’t take place in a church meeting. The church wouldn’t exist until Pentecost, and wouldn’t “assemble” for the first time until at least the day after. When the Marys brought news of the resurrection, they did not ascend to the pulpit and lecture the assembled disciples about how this was the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament prophets had foretold. They did not exposit scripture or correct the errors of men. They simply shared with the disciples the evidence of their eyes and passed on the Lord’s message to go to Galilee. The only reason Warren introduces the word “sermon” is to try to give some heft to an argument so lame it needs crutches. Oh, and it’s also a big fat straw man.

Not Recognized

What did the apostle Paul have to say about men like Rick Warren who are fluent in seminary jargon like “eisegesis” but mysteriously ignorant of the illegitimacy of a straw man argument? He said this: “The things I am writing you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” Or, as the New King James puts it, “If anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.”

Ignorant it is. Ignored he should definitely be.

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