Wilberforce on Faith and Work

William Wilberforce, a politician, saw the importance of integrating one’s faith with their work. Instead of reserving faith for ministerial work or for Sunday meetings, he saw the importance of Christianity in the mundane:

But in fact, so far is it from being true that the prevalence of real Religion would produce a stagnation in life; that a man, whatever might be his employment or pursuit, would be furnished with a new motive to prosecute it with alacrity, a motive far more constant and vigorous than any human prospects can supply: at the same time, his solicitude being not so much to succeed in whatever he might be engaged in, as to act from a pure principle and leave the event to God; he would not be liable to the same disappointments, as men who are active and laborious from a desire of worldly gain or of human estimation. Thus he would possess the true secret of a life at the same time useful and happy.

Following peace also with all men, and looking upon them as members of the same family, entitled not only to the debts of justice, but to the less definite and more liberal claims of fraternal kindness; he would naturally be respected and beloved by others, and be in himself free from the annoyance of those bad passions, by which those who are actuated by worldly principles are so commonly corroded. If any country were indeed filled with men, each thus diligently discharging the duties of his own station without breaking in upon the rights of others, but on the contrary endeavouring, so far as he might be able, to forward their views and promote their happiness; all would be active and harmonious in the goodly frame of human society. There would be no jarrings, no discord. The whole machine of civil life would work without obstruction or disorder, and the course of its movements would be like the harmony of the spheres.

William Wilberforce on How Christians Defend Their Reputations

Wilberforce has much to teach us in our social media age:

Acting therefore on these principles, he will studiously and diligently use any degree of worldly credit he may enjoy, in removing or lessening prejudices; in conciliating good-will, and thereby making way for the less obstructed progress of truth; and in providing for its being entertained with candour, or even with favour, by those who would bar all access against it in any rougher or more homely form. He will make it his business to set on foot and forward benevolent and useful schemes; and where they require united efforts, to obtain and preserve for them this co-operation. He will endeavour to discountenance vice, to bring modest merit into notice; to lend as it were his light to men of real worth, but of less creditable name, and perhaps of less conciliating qualities and manners; that they may thus shine with a reflected lustre, and be useful in their turn, when invested with their just estimation. But while by these and various other means he strives to render his reputation, so long as he possesses it, subservient to the great ends of advancing the cause of Religion and Virtue, and of promoting the happiness and comfort of mankind, he will not transgress the rule of the Scripture precepts in order to obtain, to cultivate, or to preserve it, resolutely disclaiming that dangerous sophistry of “doing evil that good may come.” Ready however to relinquish his reputation when required so to do, he will not throw it away; and so far as he allowably may, he will cautiously avoid occasions of diminishing it, instead of studiously seeking, or needlessly multiplying them, as seems sometimes to have been the practice of worthy but imprudent men.

There will be no capricious humours, no selfish tempers, no moroseness, no discourtesy, no affected severity of deportment, no peculiarity of language, no indolent neglect, or wanton breach, of the ordinary forms or fashions of society. His reputation is a possession capable of uses too important to be thus sported away; if sacrificed at all, it shall be sacrificed at the call of duty. The world shall be constrained to allow him to be amiable, as well as respectable in other parts of his character; though in what regards Religion, they may account him unreasonably precise and strict. In this no less than in other particulars, he will endeavour to reduce the enemies of Religion to adopt the confession of the accusers of the Jewish ruler, “we shall not find any fault or occasion against this Daniel — except concerning the law of his God:” and even there, if he give offence, it will only be where he dares not do otherwise; and if he fall into dis-esteem or disgrace it shall not be chargeable to any conduct which is justly dishonourable, or even to any unnecessary singularities on his part, but to the false standard of estimation of a misjudging world.

When his character is thus mistaken, or his conduct thus misconstrued, he will not wrap himself up in a mysterious sullenness; but will be ready, where he thinks any one will listen to him with patience and candour, to clear up what has been dubious, to explain what has been imperfectly known, and “speaking the truth in love” to correct, if it may be, the erroneous impressions which have been conceived of him.

He may sometimes feel it his duty publicly to vindicate his character from unjust reproach, and to repel the false charges of his enemies; but he will carefully however watch against being led away by pride, or being betrayed into some breach of truth or of Christian charity, when he is treading in a path so dangerous. At such a time he will also guard, with more than ordinary circumspection, against any undue solicitude about his worldly reputation for its own sake; and when he has done what duty requires for its vindication, he will sit down with a peaceable and quiet mind, and it will be matter of no very deep concern to him if his endeavours should have been ineffectual.

Luther on Vainglory

Commenting on Galatians 5:26, Martin Luther wrote:

The Gospel is not there for us to aggrandize ourselves. The Gospel is to aggrandize Christ and the mercy of God. It holds out to men eternal gifts that are not gifts of our own manufacture. What right have we to receive praise and glory for gifts that are not of our own making?

No wonder that God in His special grace subjects the ministers of the Gospel to all kinds of afflictions, otherwise they could not cope with this ugly beast called vainglory. If no persecution, no cross, or reproach trailed the doctrine of the Gospel, but only praise and reputation, the ministers of the Gospel would choke with pride. Paul had the Spirit of Christ. Nevertheless there was given unto him the messenger of Satan to buffet him in order that he should not come to exalt himself, because of the grandeur of his revelations. St. Augustine’s opinion is well taken: “If a minister of the Gospel is praised, he is in danger; if he is despised, he is also in danger.”

The ministers of the Gospel should be men who are not too easily affected by praise or criticism, but simply speak out the benefit and the glory of Christ and seek the salvation of souls.

Whenever you are being praised, remember it is not you who is being praised but Christ, to whom all praise belongs. When you preach the Word of God in its purity and also live accordingly, it is not your own doing, but God’s doing. And when people praise you, they really mean to praise God in you. When you understand this—and you should because “what hast thou that thou didst not receive?”—you will not flatter yourself on the one hand and on the other hand you will not carry yourself with the thought of resigning from the ministry when you are insulted, reproached, or persecuted.

It is really kind of God to send so much infamy, reproach, hatred, and cursing our way to keep us from getting proud of the gifts of God in us. We need a millstone around our neck to keep us humble. There are a few on our side who love and revere us for the ministry of the Word, but for every one of these there are a hundred on the other side who hate and persecute us.

The Lord is our glory. Such gifts as we possess we acknowledge to be the gifts of God, given to us for the good of the Church of Christ. Therefore we are not proud because of them. We know that more is required of them to whom much is given, than of such to whom little is given. We also know that God is no respecter of persons. A plain factory hand who does his work faithfully pleases God just as much as a minister of the Word.

To desire vainglory is to desire lies, because when one person praises another he tells lies. What is there in anybody to praise? But it is different when the ministry is praised. We should not only desire people to praise the ministry of the Gospel but also do our utmost to make the ministry worthy of praise because this will make the ministry more effective. Paul warns the Romans not to bring Christianity into disrepute. “Let not then your good be evil spoken of.” (Rom. 14:16.) He also begged the Corinthians to “give no offense in anything, that the ministry be not blamed.” (I Cor. 6:3.) When people praise our ministry they are not praising our persons, but God.

Such is the ill effect of vainglory. Those who teach errors provoke others. When others disapprove and reject the doctrine the teachers of errors get angry in turn, and then you have strife and trouble. The sectarians hate us furiously because we will not approve their errors. We did not attack them directly. We merely called attention to certain abuses in the Church. They did not like it and became sore at us, because it hurt their pride. They wish to be the lone rulers of the church.

10 Resolutions for Raising Daughters in the “Go Home” Era of Evangelicalism

Christian Twitter blew up last week as John MacArthur, a prominent Bible teacher, said that Beth Moore, another prominent Bible teacher, should “go home” primarily because he disagrees with her regarding whether an unordained woman can teach the Bible during a Sunday service. Hardliners on both extremes have caricatured the other side or claimed misunderstandings of both parties. More middling voices have entered the fray, trying to argue for nuance or liberty. But most of the dialogue/monologue I’ve seen speaks in regard to Evangelicalism-wide issues that are beyond my control. My hope is to speak to an issue that is within the scope of my influence: how I, as a father of three daughters, should raise them in light of this “go home” mentality that’s present in some sectors of Evangelical life. To that end, I offer these 10 personal resolutions:

Resolved, to give the benefit of the doubt to women who minister in public. In order to create a healthy environment for my daughters to serve and minister, I want to lead by avoiding caricatures of women who minister and write and serve the church. This would involve more than avoiding slander but also avoiding quick sound-byte caricatures and denigration-by-meme behavior. Instead, I will treat my sisters as innocent until proven guilty of heresy (by confessional standards, not the whims of Twitter). Benefit of the doubt is an aspect of Christian love (1 Cor. 13:7), but it also mitigates against the reality that a large swath of Evangelicalism assumes that women doing public ministry are guilty of false teaching until proven otherwise, and the slightest amount of information that confirms such suspicion will be cited as gospel-truth.

Resolved, to avoid supporting ministers who demean orthodox women. Not every strong complementarian has spoken harshly or dismissively of orthodox sisters in Christ, but those who do will not be quoted favorably by me or given any honor in my household or teaching. While there is space for confronting heretics with boldness and with tears, women who differ with us on secondary matters should never be rebuked as if they have violated primary doctrines of the faith. In order to avoid sending mixed signals to my daughters, men who use positions of power to make these sorts of attacks will be marked and avoided.

Resolved, to support and promote women who minister well. I want my daughters to hear the names of well-aligned women in ministry such as Nancy Guthrie, Jen Wilkin, Jackie Hill-Perry, Trillia Newbell, and many more frequently mentioned in our household. I want them to see orthodox women who aren’t fully aligned with us on secondary and tertiary matters treated with respect and welcomed into the dialogue and bookshelves of our home.

Resolved, to use the Bible and doctrinal statements more than labels such as “complementarian.” While the label “complementarian” has been hijacked by those who see no role for women leading outside the home and church and those who see no vocal ministry for women where men might be able to listen (albeit inconsistent in that practice themselves), I find more stable teaching in the Bible and more helpful systematization in doctrinal statements. Instead of a complementarianism that only portioned off “some teaching” in the Danvers Statement and reserved gender distinctions in the home and for pastoral office in the BFM2000, we find a more restrictive version from its most vocal proponents. Instead of a sort of complementarianism that welcomed an R. C. Sproul who advocated women teachers in many aspects of church life, we find a more sectarian ideology that has calcified an array of male-only avenues of service in the church.* Instead of the Paul who found room for women who prophesied and prayed publicly (1 Cor. 11), encouraged them to participate in mutual teaching in the gathered local assembly (Col. 3:16, cf. v. 18), wanted them to “teach what is good” (Titus 2:3), and relied on them for critical and vocal ministry roles in local churches (e.g., Rom. 16:1–2, 7; Col. 4:15), we find a small window of women’s ministry that primarily relies on a singular interpretation of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2 in exclusion from the rest of the Pauline canon. Instead of a Jesus who included women in his ministry in important ways and extended a call for all his disciples to make disciples, baptize, and teach, we find a truncated Great Commission that allows women to only participate in ⅓ of its activities. If the latter is the new meaning of “complementarianism,” then I will not publicly use that label to define my theology even though I assent to the Danvers Statement.

Resolved, to show unequivocal support for the abused and disenfranchised. As women young and old are frequent targets for abuse and inequality, I want to live in such a way that demonstrates that no quarter will be given to injustice or abuse. My words and actions must convey that my daughters can turn to me for support first upon the occasion that they might receive harassment or abuse.

Resolved, to encourage my daughters to use their gifts to the utmost in the home, the church, and in society. Outside of the case that can be made for the male-only pastorate and a unique kind of authority and teaching that comes with that office, I see no biblical restrictions that would restrict my daughters from selflessly exercising their gifts in every sphere of life. To that end, I will do whatever is in my power to help them walk in the Spirit and serve the church in a variety of ways in a variety of spheres.

Resolved, to coach and disciple my daughters to be meaningful disciple-makers and thoughtful theologians. Although never yet having been ordained, I have been blessed with opportunities to pursue doctoral studies in theology, to teach on the mission field, to contribute to published theological works, and even to speak as a lay leader in mixed audiences. Speaking as a dad, these are all opportunities that I hope and would be honored if one or more of my daughters may aspire to in order to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ. Whether they function as disciple-makers and theologians from the home, in the workplace, in the academy, or in the church, I intend to impart whatever training I can in order to make them successful at those tasks.

Resolved, to defend my daughters from misuse of Scripture. I’ve heard 1 Peter used to support requiring a woman to remain with an abusive husband. I’ve heard adult women (but not men) told that they need to submit to their dads until they marry. I’ve heard pastors extend gender roles into the workplace, arguing that women shouldn’t have leadership roles in business and government. As a father, I must proactively dismantle those misapplications of the Bible and help my daughters develop a strong heremeneutical toolkit necessary for them to apply the meaning of Scripture properly.

Resolved, to leave a legacy of healthy, biblical masculinity that neither caves to present culture nor idolizes stereotypes from other eras. I can finish a basement, hit a target, and split wood with the best of them, but I never want my daughters to associate these behaviors with masculinity. I want them to know see in their father a masculinity that restrains power and serves the powerless. I want them to see a dad who loves their mom and loves Jesus. In these ways, I want to counter cultural assumptions (old and new) about how men should behave and live according to the supra-cultural norms of Scripture.

Resolved, to never give the impression that the domestic sphere is the best place for a woman or of lesser significance than other spheres. Complementarians frequently claim or imply that the domestic sphere is the best place for women to minister (“go home”); egalitarians frequently claim or imply that the domestic sphere is a lesser calling (“why would a woman have to give up a career to raise children”). Instead, I want my daughters to know that all spheres belong to God and, as such, are good places to serve others. Should God lead them to use their gifts primarily in the home, that’s a wonderful calling. Should God lead them to use their gifts in the business world, in the church, in the academy, in government, etc., this would be an equally wonderful calling. In no way should women exclusively feel the responsibility of domestic ministry.


Note: I’m fully aware that I have and will fall short of these ideals. I want my friends to know that they may call me out when I do. I’m also fully aware that a group of evangelicals will take issue with being “too soft” on 1 Timothy 2, and I suspect that another group will be upset that I’ve made mention of any gender distinctions in the home or in the church. To both parties, I welcome respectful dialogue on your differences and welcome the opportunity to refine my views on this issue. Grace to you.

*Update (1/30/2020): The teaching video by R. C. Sproul that I initially referenced in this article has unfortunately been removed by Ligonier and the following statement has been posted in its place: “This content has been removed at the request of the Sproul family. Ligonier Ministries cannot account for the date or occasion of the comments, which makes providing a context difficult. The original content was a lecture that was likely delivered in the 1970’s or 1980’s expressing views that do not accurately represent Dr. R.C. Sproul’s later views on the subject.”

Following this statement, they include four links to sources related to the subject of the role of women in the church. I would just like to point out several observations about the suggested resources and this retraction:

  1. Of the two alternate resources written or spoken directly by Sproul:
    • Neither retracts what Sproul taught in the original video regarding the ability of women to teach/preach the gathered church in a Sunday service less the “juridical authority” in back of such spoken ministry.
    • Both underscore what Sproul taught in the original video regarding the particular kind of authority Sproul understood to be off limits to women, namely “juridical authority.”
    • Both deal more with issues of ordination to pastoral office, which has not been the focus of the intra-complementarian debates. But even here, Sproul clearly treats the ordination of women as a secondary issue–one that doesn’t demand separation.
  2. Of the two alternate resources written by others:
    • The first (published while Sproul was still editing Tabletalk) is certainly tighter than Sproul’s original video position, noting that “women are barred from preaching and teaching in worship.” The author then goes on to cite one of the key claims of Sproul in the original video, namely that the authority in the passage is “juridical” or “governing” in nature. We are left to wonder whether Sproul left the devotional note by the contributor (obviously not Sproul) unedited while disagreeing with it, or whether he let it stand because he had changed his position over time.
    • The second (published this year and after the death of Sproul) represents the current orthodoxy of the more restrictive camp of complementarians.
  3. The date of the teaching is hinted at as diminishing the accuracy of Sproul’s beliefs. While we want to give space for peoples’ theology to shift somewhat over time, we should note that (a) the 1980s were the breakout years for Sproul’s ministry, the decade in which he published The Holiness of God, and (b) as indicated related to the previous sources, Sproul never clearly or publicly indicated a retraction or even a modification of his position.
  4. The allegations of “the Sproul family” is intriguing. While they certainly can appeal to private conversation that R. C. Sproul never published regarding his “later views on the subject,” I tend to question the source for several reasons. First, in the 2016 Q&A video that is referenced, Sproul had a late-in-life opportunity teed up to set the record straight on whether a women could speak, teach, or preach in a church. Instead he dealt only with ordination and “juridical authority.” Second, if “the Sproul family” is indicative of self-identified “Christian patriarchalist” R. C. Sproul Jr., I wouldn’t put too much stock in this allegation.
  5. Lastly, and most importantly, this retraction is case-and-point of what I originally claimed in this article, namely that a movement is currently afoot to purge the ranks and create a monolith of “complementarianism” that never existed. Until any further evidence comes to light to the contrary, we should see this move as a bit of 1984 historical revisionism and an unfortunate move to censor modern theologians’ access to the progress of Sproul’s theologizing.