From a Western Michigan reader I received the following:
“In the last few years I have noticed, in the Reformed community, an increase in the number of unordained men preaching. This occurs because of various circumstances. Ministers go on vacation; and rather than ask another minister to preach, a consistory asks a lay member to lead the service. Or a church will send one of its members to a nearby camping area to conduct a Sunday service. This seems to me to be a bad practice and, moreover, a violation of the Church Order. Please comment.”
My first comment is that this is indeed a violation of the Church Order of Dordrecht, which is very clear on this point, Article 3: “No one, though he be a professor of theology, elder or deacon, shall be permitted to enter upon the ministry of the Word and the sacraments without having been lawfully called thereunto. And when anyone acts contrary thereto, and after being frequently admonished does not desist, the classis shall judge whether he is to be declared a schismatic or is to be punished in some other way.” The seriousness, by the way, with which the Church Order views such lawlessness is very evident from what this article says about a possible punishment: the violation of this principle can even lead to being declared schismatic!
In the second place, I would point out that there are not only many such individual “unordained preachers” in our day; but there are whole movements, organizations, which engage in this kind of activityapart from the church and its offices. I refer to the many non-ecclesiastical, so-called “non-denominational,” evangelistic associations which presume to do mission work and evangelism in our day—all apart from the church institute. This is in violation of the Scriptural principle that a preacher is one who is called and sent by God and by Christ. It is in violation of the principle that Christ has given to Hischurch pastors and, teachers. And it is in violation of the principle that Christ calls men to the ministry of the gospel in and through His church—never apart from it. Today, it seems, any Tom, Dick, and Harry can be a preacher, or an “evangelist,” as they like to call themselves.
In the third place, I want to warn against the idea that such men after all do much good, sometimes even more good; than the church and its ordained men accomplishes. This is sometimes used as an argument in favor of such movements. I do not accept this argument whatsoever—even apart now from the fact that the “gospel” which these men and these organizations usually bring is by no means the gospel of the Scriptures. My point is that we have no right to expect the blessing of the Lord in the way of lawlessness. We have no right to try to impose our way of doing things—even if it seems to be a pious way with pious motives—upon the Lord God, and then to expect that He will bless that wrong way. This is the height of presumption against the living God. If it pleases God to work His work through preachers whom He calls and sends only, are we to tell the Lord God that we have a better way of doing things? God forbid!
In the fourth place, I wish to point to a still greater evil, namely, that churches lend their official sanction to such evangelistic movements and support them, even finding much good sometimes in the work of such wild movements as the Jesus Movement. This is a dirty shame, when the church belittles its own position and its own calling and its own Christ-ordained offices. This can only be self-destructive for any church. And that self-destruction, I believe, is the manifestation of the heavy hand of God’s wrath against a church which has been unfaithful to its calling to preach the Word.
From a California reader comes this interesting question:
“I don’t really remember which one of your ministers answers the Question Box; but the question has come up about women wearing hats in church, or having their heads covered in church, and also ‘if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him.’ I am referring to I Corinthians 11, about the first fifteen verses. Could you please explain this to me?”
This is an interesting question, and, let me add immediately, that the passage involved is not one of the easiest to understand. I will not try at this time to give a full and detailed explanation of the entire passage. That would require more space than is available to me for Question Box. Besides, it would lead us afield, I fear, from the question of chief concern to my questioner. Rather, I will try to make a few main points concerning the meaning of this passage and to furnish a few guidelines with respect to the concrete question raised. And then, if my questioner is not satisfied or is left with more questions than answers, she is welcome to call again.
First of all, let us get the passage in question before us. I will quote verses 3-16 from the KJV: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”
Negatively, I would point out the following: 1) That it cannot be the intention of this passage to lay down rules and regulations for the dress of women in church as such, i.e., when the congregation is gathered for public worship. Why not? Notice that the apostle is writing here about the conduct of women when theypray or prophesy, vss. 4, 5. Hence, while the passage may indeed say something about the conduct of women in public, it does not address itself as such to conduct in public worship. For with respect to the latter, this same apostle insists, I Cor. 14:34, 35: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” I emphasize this because it has not been uncommon, at least in the past, that this passage has been applied to conduct in public worship, as though this were the apostle’s concern here. Moreover, there have been those who sometimes have insisted, with an appeal to this passage, that it is absolutely mandatory for a woman to wear a hat or a kerchief of some kind in the worship services of the church, but who would not insist on the same thing in other public gatherings or meetings of saints other than worship services. Now regardless of the “hat question,” this cannot possibly be the proper meaning and application of this passage.
2) We must be careful against interpreting this passage in a legalistic manner, as though the apostle were prescribing all kinds of detailed laws and precepts, and that, too, for saints in all ages and in all places. Do not forget that this same apostle inveighs against legalism in his epistles more than once. The Christian is not under the law, but under grace. Nor is there any principle as such in the wearing of a hat or in the failure to wear a hat by either women or men. If there were, then the high priest and his sons, the priests, would not have. been commanded to wear any head-dress, as they were in Ex. 28 and Ex. 29. Hence, even as it is not sin as such for a man (even in the service of God, as were the priests) to wear a head-covering, so it cannot be sin as such for a woman not to wear a head-covering. Sin is not in mere things, neither is grace. We ought to avoid such legalism like the plague. It is neither spiritual nor edifying. And practical experience always teaches that such legalism among Christians leads to all kinds of inconsistencies and inanities. Just take the present subject as an example. It is easy to raise all kinds of questions. What constitutes a hat? How big may and must it be to qualify as a hat? Will a kerchief do as a substitute? Must the hat also have a veil—as some ladies’ hats used to have? Or will a hat without a veil also do? Or I could insist—to be strictly legal—that women today have to wear the sort of face-veil which, according to some, was in vogue in the apostle’s day; and that a mere hat of modern fashion will not qualify whatsoever. The same is true with respect to the hair-question. And perhaps some of our older readers may still remember the hot arguments about “bobbed” hair. Well, how long is long? May a woman cut her hair at all? May she, perhaps, trim the ends evenly? And if she may trim an inch off, how about an inch-and-a-half? Moreover, if she has long hair, may she make it appear as though she has short hair by curling it or by rolling it up in a “bun” or by fixing it in an upsweep? And how about a man? How short is short? Must he have his hair cropped or shaved? If he has a brush cut, is it permissible to have a flat-top? And if his hair is two inches long, may it also be three or three-and-a-quarter inches? You say, perhaps, that I am engaged in a reductio ad absurdum (a reduction to absurdity). No, I am merely pointing out to what absurdities legalism actually, in experience, leads. And eventually those involved become guilty of straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, just as did the Pharisees. [If, by the way, anyone wonders whether I hold the same opinion with respect to other legalism, as, for instance, with dress codes, hair-codes, etc., the answer is affirmative. I detest them, and consider them demeaning of Christian liberty and totally unedifying with respect to Christian virtues. By the same token, however, I also detest libertinism!]
Positively, I would point out the following:
1) The apostle is concerned about a principle. That principle is the one of the proper relation of the woman to the man. The man is the head of the woman, even as Christ is the head of the man, and God is the head of Christ. Authority and subjection are, therefore, involved. I know that in our day of women’s liberation movements—more properly called women’s libertine movements—this tends to sound strange, even sometimes in Christian circles. But it is a Biblical principle.
2) Evidently there were women in the church of Corinth also who wanted to “kick the traces” and to put themselves on the same level as men in the church. Perhaps they found the occasion (not the reason) for this in the truth that in Christ there is neither male nor female. And especially in the matter of praying and prophesying they began to conduct themselves as the equals of men, rather than to manifest their subjection in the Lord.
3) And the manner by which they did this was to remove the symbol of their womanhood (virtually, we are told, the one item of clothing which distinguished a woman from a man in Grecian circles), their head-dress, or veil. By doing so they made themselves appear as shameless women, even, according to some, like prostitutes and street women. And this was unseemly. They changed their proper liberty in Christ, as women in relation to men in the Lord, into licentiousness. And, I take it, when in verse 16 the apostle speaks of the fact that “we have no such custom, neither the churches of God,” he is referring to the custom suggested in vss. 4 and 5.
[Editor’s note. I have on hand a question concerning the elder son in the parable of the prodigal son. This will have to wait until the next issue.]