Friday, 23 July 2010


The Church cannot afford to dispense with the Apostle Paul whatever the cultural climate. At a time when the cultures of the 1st century Roman Empire and 21st century Western civilisation, in its late-middle-aged decadence, are converging, it is astonishing that the older Protestant denominations in the English-speaking world feel free to sit loose to Paul.

This struck Cranmer’s Curate forcibly in the course of his daily Bible reading, currently journeying through Isaiah in the Old Testament and Romans in the New. Paul’s words in Romans 13 brought home the indispensability of his apostolic authority to the Church in every cultural climate in the last days:
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13v11-14 – ESV).

Because the author of these words is an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ writing Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture, they should be obeyed without disputation by any professing Christian. Unless a deliberate decision to obey them is taken in dependence upon God's Holy Spirit, any fallen human being is capable of taking part in the 'nots in' Paul specifically mentions in v13.

So what is likely to happen when a professing Christian makes a deliberate decision to dismiss Paul’s commands as purely culturally conditioned and not authoritative for the Church in every century? The Protestant Churches in the West have already done that in relation to Paul’s teaching on male headship and are increasingly doing so on sexual ethics.

When a professing Christian deliberately sidelines Paul to the 1st century he or she becomes vulnerable to the very activities Paul warns against in Romans 13v13 and the list does not make pretty reading. That vulnerability is exacerbated when these activities become commonplace in a particular culture.

It surely will not be long before a prominent church leader in one of the liberal denominations finds compromising photographs of him or herself in a tabloid newspaper. Furthermore, churches in which Paul is being sidelined are likely to be places where there are serious abuses of power because the human tendency to quarrelling and jealousy is not being resisted in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are lurid and shameful consequences of refusing to listen to Paul.


  1. Even more interesting is to look at what Paul says to the church in Corinth - a city with such an appalling reputation that even the Romans couldn't stand it, and demolished and rebuilt it. Nevertheless, the infant church in Corinth sat in the middle of a society dominated by its historically pagan religion, something which keeps creeping back into the church.
    When Paul addresses the issues in Corinth, we should listen, as we live in an increasingly pagan society, and will find those issues surfacing in our churches. And he addresses a huge range of issues - some of which have a remarkably modern ring. Church members resolving their differences in the civil courts, for example, as the US church appears to think is acceptable - has Bishop Katherine ever read 1 Corinthians 6?
    And why does Paul spend three whole chapters (1 Cor 12 to 14) talking about spiritual gifts? Because they knew all about these things from their pagan past - the Holy Spirit simply used them in a different way, and they needed to see that (for example) pagan tongues were entirely different from Holy Spirit tongues.
    We need to learn from Paul and stop viewing him as a grumpy old man - he faced leadership problems completely unknown to modern church leaders. However, in the future they will need the advice he gave to the infact church.

  2. 21st century Bible readers need to remember that Paul (as well as being Christian) was also a Jew – and steeped in the Torah.

    Having just read Numbers chapter 5 for the first time – and being appalled at its content, considering that the female knew OT justice more completely than her male counterpart despite his concupiscence, I recognise that Paul is still affected by “the law” in regard of male headship (also Romans 7) rather than “life in the Spirit” (Romans 8-12).

    This is not “sitting loose” to Paul’s teaching! This is recognising that Paul’s mind, although renewed, is not divine, unlike that of Jesus who is fully divine as well as fully human. Thank God Jesus was more like Hosea in Hosea’s treatment of Gomer than Paul would ever be in Paul’s cavalier treatment of a woman’s role in the church.
    It is no good Reform trying to infer that male headship is all about men demonstrating Christ’s self-sacrifice – male headship is more about men demonstrating Numbers 5.

    Can you blame women for wanting men to demonstrate a “Hosea likeness” as Christ did (given the level of male concupiscence), rather than a “Paul likeness”?

    Beryl Polden,

  3. I found this post to be a rather crude and pathetic attempt to knock women's ordination.

    It's actually quite offensive to hear it suggested that giving women leadership roles will lead to sex scandals and abuses of power.

    In the first instance, many other denominations have been ordaining women for years. I'm not aware of any evidence to show that extra-marital affairs are more common amongst their leaders. Quite the opposite, I think. In the USA, several of the high-profile scandals have involved male leaders in the conservative denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention. Likewise, in the UK, the biggest scandal in recent years was Roy Clements, who was definitely not a liberal.

    As far as abuses of power are concerned, some of the most authoritarian groups are the reformed conservative evangelicals, who believe that they have a monopoly on the truth. In many of these churches, if you disagree with the minister's teaching, you are told that you are in rebellion against God and therefore a sinner who will go to hell. I dread to think how many people have been left seriously damaged (or even lost their faith) as a result of being exposed to such an oppressive and abusive environment.

    In the end, the real issue is not about sidelining Paul. It's about the proper exegesis of his epistles, making sure that we correctly understand what he said. As I think I mentioned elsewhere, a leading Pauline scholar today is NT Wright. One can hardly accuse him of sidelining Paul, yet his detailed studies have concluded that the Paul categorically does not teach that women shouldn't be in leadership.

  4. Beryl, the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control!
    I agree that Julian's post is giving a reason against the ordination of women. however there is much to learn from Paul's teaching on sexual ethics. If we need to take Paul's teaching in its cultural context then we do also need to take Numbers 5 in context. I wonder what would have been the custom before Moses in dealing with suspicious behaviour in wives? I would guess "stone them anyway"! Numbers 5 does put the outcome 'in the hands of God' although somewhat crudely in our eyes.
    And what about "female concupiscence"? Plenty of that around in the present culture . . . .

  5. I think CC is right.

    Beryl, I understand Romans 7 to be not about OT ceremonial or civil law but God’s ‘moral’ law that, as Christians, we delight in our inner beings, and which the Holy Spirit helps us live out.

    One cannot be “appalled” at the contents of God’s word, even Num 5. All Scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for us… and, as I understand, the OT is interpreted in light of the NT. Paul’s teachings, a result of Jesus promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring them a fuller understanding (John 16:12-15), are written to young churches, so I think it is the Epistles which have most to say about the way God wants churches. Male headship is as described by Paul. Of course Paul’s mind isn’t divine (as are none of the other human authors of scripture either) but the Church has for centuries accepted the Epistles we have in the Bible as part of canonical scriptures, thus part of God’s word. And Jesus said plenty against the religious culture of the day but didn’t appoint women among the 12.

    Ian Smith, while there are moral failures among conservative evangelicals, I guess it’s a case of sidelining Paul increases the likelihood. Compromise one part of God’s word, means compromise other parts can be more easily accepted. As for NT Wright – hasn’t he come up with some “fresh perspective” or something on Paul, which rejects the central core Gospel truth of penal substitution?