Sunday, March 30, 2014

Understanding CBMW Concerning the Old Testament and the Law

It is not true of all of those who participate with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), but Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians have had a predominant influence and now control the organization. Though Paige and Dorothy Patterson are notable exceptions to this, I believe that understanding the guiding theology that propels complementarianism can help the reader understand why CBMW teaches certain ideas. We've already noted in a recent post how the Covenant of Redemption from Covenant Theology has profoundly influenced CBMW's concept of the Eternal Subordination of the Son.

I cannot begin to detail all of the distinctions of Covenant Theology here (that which is followed by most Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians), but I will point out some significant ones that I believe put CBMW's approach into perspective. The Freedom for Christian Women Coalition's petition to CBMW was drafted by Dispensationalists (the predominant number of Evangelicals in the US), and much of the conflict arises from the clash between these two theologies. (View and sign the petition HERE.) This has been compounded by CBMW's jackboot thug approach to critics. I believe that understanding the conflicting approaches to theology will help illustrate why the petition is so important to the cause of Christian liberty.

As was true in my own case, I originally and wrongly understood that Calvinism and a certain eschatology (end times beliefs) defined Covenant Theology (CT). The theology encompasses many more doctrines than just those pertaining to God's sovereignty. Several seem very significant to me when attempting to put complementarianism into perspective. I believe that CT ties New Testament Believers to a heavier duty to the Old Testament Law, and much of this can be seen in complementarianism.

It is also essential to note that, because of the difference in eschatology, CT is driven to take dominion so as to usher in the millennial reign of Christ, eventually leading to the Second Coming of Christ. Society must be turned to Christ, God's order established on the earth, and it's up to Spirit-led Christians to accomplish that dominion. Perhaps this offers a motive for the aggressiveness with which complementarians have advanced their beliefs in the Evangelical Church? You cannot take dominion over the secular society until you've taken dominion over your own house. In that respect, I think that the gender agenda provides the Calvinists within the United States with its most significant tool of recruitment. If you fully accept all of the tenets of complementarianism, it seems likely that they will push you to the logical conclusion of CT's other doctrines.

Understanding the Identity of the Church

Many fail to realize that Dispensationalism regards the Upper Room experience at Pentecost as the birthplace of the Church. CT makes no such distinctions between the Old Testament assembly and the New Testament ekklesia (what is usually translated as “church”). They regard Abraham as part of the ekklesia. Rather than understanding that God related to mankind in periods of dispensation, CT maintains that the covenants that God made with those who believed in Him are still valid. Each successive covenant was just more specific, but they all culminate in the New Covenant.

I find this very significant, because while each Old Testament covenant was building towards the better covenant through Jesus, CT attaches New Testament Believers to those covenants and their conditions in a more significant way than Dispensationalism does. I believe that this enhances the patriarchy that is found in the Old Covenant, and it is used to downplay Christ's witness against those traditions. Those in the New Covenant are beholden to their shared identity with Israel.

Appropriating the Old Testament Law

On many occasions, I've referred to CBMW's rules as their Talmud for Women. We see a focus on dos an don'ts in their paradigm, including a long list of specific acceptable behaviors in a widely read article written by Wayne Grudem. I also find this quite notable, considering how CT appropriates the Old Law for New Testament Believers. How one figures out what law applies differs from dispensationalists.

Luther argued that justification provided something of a litmus test to help us understand the Law. It was our schoolmaster, Paul says, but we are no longer bound to the consequences of that law. How do you know which Old Testament Law applies? Luther argued that justification was separate from the process of sanctification (becoming more holy through the work of the Holy Spirit over time), and that it was central to our salvation. Through knowledge of the Word and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the inner man, a Christian can draw knowledge and admonishment from the Old Testament, so long as that Old Law does not condemn or argue against a person's salvation. If I fail to do something in the Old Law, and it jeopardizes my right standing so that I no longer see myself as justified forensically before a Holy God through Jesus, then I am looking to works as opposed to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I've just moved from faith into works, and I've stepped into legalism.

In Covenant Theology, one determines which one of the 613 commandments in the Old Law applies by dividing the Law into categories. Christians are bound to follow the moral laws, but the civil and the ceremonial laws are no longer followed. Theoretically, one must be knowledgeable about the Law, must study to understand what distinguishes one law from another, and then place each law in the appropriate category. In addition to this already complicated process, there is obviously room for contention over which law goes into what category. Even litigious Christian Reconstructionsts like Gary North readily admits that no one can agree on where each commandment belongs.

As you read about the beliefs of CBMW, consider the ties that Covenant Theology creates, binding New Testament Believers to the Old Covenant. Not all Reformed Believers live with their nose buried in a rule book, but I think that understanding this type of approach to the Law helps one understand why lists of contemporary gender rules might be helpful to some. Personally, I find that the CT approach to the Law to be too legalistic (something that is a world away from rejecting the Law so that I can live lawlessly). For me, it puts even more responsibility on me as a believer to abide in the Vine and to stay sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It's easy to follow a list of rules and much harder to live in holiness by trusting in God to guide me.

This does not mean that those who understand the Law in this way are in error.  The problem lies in the lack of Christian liberty extended to others over differing doctrinal issues like meat sacrificed to idols.  Sadly, many in CT will claim that those who do not appropriate the Law in the same way that they do are "antinomian" or are "Arminian" or some manner of descriptor that becomes pejorative in its use.  I also believe that the general pessimism that those who follow CT can sometimes hold, even concerning fellow Believers, can be demonstrated in these matters.  They hint at or directly state that those who deviate from their understanding lack respect for the Word of God and desire to live licentiously.  Often, those who follow a different theology are deemed to be sub-Christian as opposed to fellow Believers who hold fast to true faith in the true Christ.  I believe that this tendency plays out notably in CBMW's dealings with their critics.

(And yes, I did use elements of a Lutheran artist's work to depict these distinctions to argue my case.)