“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” So sang Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. And she’s right. The beginning is a very good place to start…unless of course you’re tied to an acronym. In many respects this post should have been the first, because it establishes a principle that many of the other posts build upon. But since the name of our church isn’t Ybethan, I had to save it for the end.
This post is about “yielded roles”. Some will find this concept prickly and restrictive. I find it freeing and glorious. It stems from the belief in a good and wise God who knows how to best bring joy to His creatures. It’s a principle that touches many aspects of ministry here at Bethany.
A good Role-giver
This concept is based on a very simple premise: God knows what He’s doing. We believe that God is sovereign, and therefore has the right to order His creation. But we also believe that God is good – only good, always good – and would therefore order His creation in a way that best promotes His creatures’ joy and effectiveness. We also believe that God is all-knowing and all-wise and knows how to best order His creation.
Throughout the Scriptures, this sovereign, good, wise God gives different commands to different people and groups of people. These commands differ from each other. The role of civil governments differ from the role of a local church, which differs from the role of a husband, which differs from the role of a deacon.
Implied in these positive commands are negative commands. Though the Bible never literally forbids a local church from making arrests, issuing tickets, and collecting fines, it does implicitly forbid those actions by giving them to another entity (Romans 13:1-7). By giving a role to one person or group, God is implying that it is best for another group to perform those functions.
In the Old Testament, we have an example of someone who did not yield to the roles God had given. 2 Chronicles 26 tells of Uzziah, king of Judah. Uzziah, though on the whole a godly man, has a major transgression recorded. The Scripture says, “But when he [Uzziah] was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction; for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar.” (2 Chronicles 26:16)
To my knowledge, there’s nothing in the Law that forbids a king from offering incense on the altar. But there doesn’t need to be a direct law against it because that role was specifically given to the priests (Exodus 30:7-8). In confronting King Uzziah, the priest Azariah said, “It appertaineth not to thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the LORD God.” (v. 18b)
Even though there was no direct law against it, Uzziah usurpation of the priest’s role is called a “transgression”, a sin (vs. 16, 18). Azzariah challenged the king’s action on the basis that the role of offering incense was given to a different group of people. Failing to honor the distinct roles given by God can have disastrous effects. For Uzziah, it resulted in divine punishment (v. 19).
We at Bethany believe it’s important for people and groups of people to obey the commands given to them specifically. Many Christians and churches recognize these specific roles given to specific people or groups. However, as time goes on these roles tend to get muddled. The church starts doing things that God commanded the family to do. The government starts doing things the church is ordered to do. The roles of wives and husband start to be blurred. Institutions seen nowhere in the Scriptures start to fulfill roles that God explicitly gave to other people.
At Bethany, we not only want to acknowledge these different roles; we want our members to passionately embrace them. We believe there’s real danger in letting these roles become muddled or passive. Something we hear our pastor say many times is that some of the greatest damage in the church has been caused by her indulgence in that which is not forbidden. We don’t simply want to do what is acceptable. We want to enthusiastically pursue God’s intended design. Each role that is given is a unique stewardship. The people to whom the responsibility is given have a unique opportunity to glorify God by faithfully fulfilling their role.
But none of this has to be prickly or rigid. Because God is good, we can trust His design. He knows what is most freeing, joyful, and satisfying for us. We can trust Him completely as we yield to Him from the heart.
Men and women
Perhaps no line has become more blurred in our culture than the line that separates the roles of men and women. Androgyny has overtaken our society. Admitting, much less embracing, the unique roles of men and women is considered archaic, hateful, and bigoted.
Despite this, we do try to embrace the glorious roles that God has given to men and women. Bethany’s doctrinal statement says, “We believe that in the beginning, God made them male and female; that this blessed distinction should be recognized, encouraged, revered, and celebrated rather than ignored, minimized, or maligned. We believe that men and women are equal in personhood and worth, but distinct in function and role; that these God-ordained roles in marriage, the family, and the church should be embraced and promoted. (Genesis 1:27; Mark 16:10; 1 Corinthians 11:2-15; Ephesians 5:25-33; 1 Timothy 2:8-15)”
Men and women equally possess the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and have equal access to all the benefits of Christ’s salvation (Galatians 3:28). At the same time, God has given men and women unique roles in marriage (Colossians 3:18-19), the family (Ephesians 5:25-6:4), and the church (1 Corinthians 11:2-15, 1 Timothy 2:8-3:2). These roles are equally valuable and praiseworthy. God is glorified when both men and women joyfully embrace their special role.
Even among churches that would confess the distinction between men and women, those lines are often marginalized. “Complementarian” is a box that gets checked and then ignored. We believe that these truths should not only be professed, but lived out in real life.
We therefore challenge our men to be loving, humble heads of their home, who give of themselves for their family, are faithful to their wife, and model the self-sacrificing example of the Lord Jesus. We encourage women to joyfully embrace their roles as wives and mothers, submitting to their own husband, nurturing their children, and turning the home into a place of vibrant ministry.
We encourage both men and women to be actively involved in church ministry in a way that is consistent with their masculinity or femininity. We do believe that the offices of elder and deacon are reserved for men (1 Timothy 2:8-3:13). But this does not mean that women simply sit on the sidelines. They can actively serve in the Body of Christ as they embrace their God-given role and continue in faith, love, holiness, and sobriety (1 Timothy 2:15).
God has given the family a unique set of responsibilities. Parents have the role of discipling and raising their own children (Ephesians 6:1-4). Children are called to respond to their parents’ instruction with honor and obedience, even as parents are careful to not provoke them to anger (Colossians 3:20-21). Training and nurturing is a role that uniquely belongs to the family.
At Bethany, we structure our church in such a way as to encourage our members to embrace their familial roles. We train parents to proactively disciple and instruct their children. Parents learn to teach their children in the Christian faith and address heart-level issues. Children are encouraged to respect and honor their parents.
In many churches, age-segregated programs are used to train children. Sunday school, church’s church, kids’ programs, and youth groups are the primary means of educating children in the faith. It’s not that these things are evil. But this is another area of the permissible interfering with the prescribed. The role of training children was never given to church ministries. That role has been explicitly given to parents. When we encourage parents to fulfill their role, rather than doing it for them, we allow both families and churches to better glorify God by accomplishing the responsibilities He’s given them.
The local church
Some might think that by putting such an emphasis on the role of the family, the church would be minimized. But this is not the case. We firmly believe that the local church is at the center of God’s agenda for this age. As such, God’s given His church several directives. Churches are to administer the ordinances (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34), conduct corporate worship (Ephesians 5:17), engage in corporate prayer (Acts 2:42), fellowship together (Ibid.; Hebrews 10:25), work together in evangelism (Matthew 28:19), and conduct Christian education (Matthew 28:20; 2 Timothy 2:2).
I want to take a closer look at a few of those directives. These can be found in the Great Commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19-20) We can summarize the Great Commission into three parts: evangelize (“make disciples”), baptize (“baptizing them”), and catechize (“teaching them”).
Local churches are responsible to spread the Gospel locally, regionally, and globally. Many churches tend to be passive in this effort, content to simply write a check to a mission agency. While we do think that giving to foreign missions is valid and important, we don’t want that to be the sum of our missionary effort. We want to be proactive in sharing our faith and planting churches in and around our community. This is a role that God has given to us as a church and we don’t want to “subcontract” it out to someone else.
We also believe that the New Testament gives the local church the responsibility to educate believers in the Christian faith. This is a broad task that includes the full spectrum of biblical truth. Churches are to teach all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:20) and instruct people in the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). This would include the first principles of the faith and instructions on practical Christians living. But it would also include higher theological education and pastoral training. We believe that churches have been given the job of training and appointing their own leaders (2 Timothy 2:2).
Ironically, even as churches clamour to fulfill a role that was given to families, they ignore a role that was explicitly given to them. The job of training future leaders has largely been relegated to parachurch organizations. I’m grateful for God-honoring Bible colleges and seminaries and do believe that they have a legitimate place. However, this does not excuse churches from completely abdicating that responsibility.
At Bethany, we’re developing our own leadership training program. This program trains men for pastoral leadership while integrating them into authentic local church ministry. This is not simply a “church-housed” program that attempts to replicate seminary work inside the four walls of the church building. This is a “church-based” program, where robust higher education is integrated into the life and ministry of the church. The result is that students not only gain knowledge but have their character assessed and sharpened by their fellow church members and receive practical training from people currently in the throes of ministry.
I received my pastoral training from Bethany’s church-based theological education ministries, which we currently call Theological Education And Mentoring (TEAM) Work. At times it was hard. This approach not only stretches you mentally but also forces you to deal with shortcomings and character flaws. But looking back, I’m so very grateful that God gave me the opportunity to participate in this ministry. The knowledge, skills, and real life experience that I gained have been invaluable for ministry.
Bethany Baptist Church desires to be a church that passionately, actively fulfills all the directives given to the local church. We don’t want to be passive in areas that God has called us to be active. We do want to glorify God by joyfully obeying His directives.
In His grace and wisdom, God has given different people and institutions different roles. At Bethany, we take that seriously. We want to make sure that we’re fulfilling all the roles that God has given us and that we don’t interfere with others yielding to their role. Not only is this the most effective way to fulfill the scriptural directives, it pleases God when we joyfully yield to roles He’s given us.