Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Winsomeness and Discernment

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling Charlotte campus

I was not going to write about “the women’s issue” this month. I was actually going to talk about sexuality, faith, and modern culture. However, Sunday happened and things changed.
This past Sunday, my husband and I visited one of the largest churches in our city. There was a guest preacher (it is a joke between us that whenever we visit a church, we always get a special occasion and have to go a second time to see what the church is really like!). The guest preacher was the president of a different seminary from out of town. He chose as his passage Colossians 3:18-21:
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. [i]
I felt the urge to leave immediately after he read the passage. However, I did not want to be disrespectful. Several other times during the sermon, I again felt the urge to leave, and again forbore. It occurred to me, that as a guest preacher and the president of a seminary, his choice of this passage was not unintentional, and I wondered if he was preaching the sermon at other churches he visited.
It was no surprise to me that he would preach the traditional subordinationist interpretation of this passage. I was surprised at how far he went to support this view. To show women that it was okay to submit to their husbands and it did not mean they were lesser creatures, he explained that this was like the Trinity: even though the three persons of the Trinity are equal in being, for the purpose of redemption, the second person submitted himself to the first. He left lots of wiggle room when he described this, but I was shocked that the president of what I have always considered an evangelical seminary would go to this place to defend his subordinationist position. The subordination of the Son (in His Deity, not just His Humanity) has been condemned as a heresy by the church since the Council of Nicea in 325.[ii] Another subordinationist, in a recent book, asserted that we should not pray to Jesus but only to the Father, since he only is supreme.[iii]
After this, the preacher went on to the other verses here. Once again, I was surprised at where he went in explaining why husbands can be bitter towards their wives (and hence why they are told not to be). He began by saying that the women present should not take offense at what he was about to say, but to hear him out. Then he said: women are manipulative and deceitful and conniving. This was why men needed to work at not being bitter towards their wives. Even as I write this, I can hardly believe it. The saddest part for me was that the women present giggled at this.
The saddest thing of all for me, however, was that this preacher said many, many good things in the course of the sermon. He was encouraging, winsome, scholarly, engaging, and humorous. There was much good to take from his sermon. In my mind, this makes the error all the more insidious and dangerous. My point is about this (which is not specific to the women’s issue): we must ever be discerning in what we receive from teachers and preachers.
Because a preacher or teacher is winsome, humorous, or appears scholarly, this does not mean that we can blindly and indiscriminately accept everything they say. We must always study to show ourselves approved, and be ready to answer anyone who questions our beliefs. We must also, like the Jews at Berea, “search the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so” (Acts 17:11). We cannot abdicate our responsibility to know God’s word and apply it to our lives to anyone else, no matter what their position or status in the church and no matter how scholarly, winsome or engaging they speak (2 Corinthians 11:14). We must each of us take the time to meditate on and study God’s Word so that when we hear someone preaching or teaching, we may discern truth from error, and accept the former and reject the latter. This can be difficult and time-consuming, but the alternative is unthinkable. Let us encourage one another to pursue God’s truth and the discipline of serious study guided by the Holy Spirit, the history of the church, and the community of believers, so we may be discerning even in the context of the most winsome teacher of error.

[i] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Col 3:18–21). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[ii]James P. Eckman. Exploring Church History. (Wheaton: Crossway Books.2002).
[iii]Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance,(Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 153.

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