Monday, February 25, 2013

Simone's Surprise, Early Conversion, and Children of the Covenant

My daughter Simone professed faith in Jesus today. She's only three. Is that possible?

(For an adorable video, click here).

Simone didn't "come forward" after church, or raise her hand at a gospel invitation (Every head down and every eye closed!) What happened is that she walked into my bedroom unprompted on an unremarkable  Monday--completely unexpectedly--and announced to me that she "was ready to be a Christian now" (her words).

But I think there is more to the story.

For weeks at our dinner time devotions, we have been talking about what it means to be a Christian. We've been studying the stories in the Gospel of Matthew along with our church reading track. Simone knew full well both her mommy and daddy are Christians. She knew her brother and sister are too.

She also knows that sin (we don't call it 'mistakes' in our family) is rebellion against the Law of God. She had been told that becoming a Christian required repentance and faith (two sides of the same coin: repentance is turning away from sin and faith is turning to Christ).

To be honest, I had been avoiding repeat-after-me-style "Sinner's Prayers" with Simone because I wanted to avoid the error of her growing up believing she had to get saved every other weekend. Instead, I have been praying for a legitimate movement of the Holy Spirit to work in her preschool-sized heart. So, we focused our family Bible times on simple concepts: the Law (including the fifth commandment!), the Cross (Jesus took away our sins there), and faith (trusting in Jesus as our King).

Finally today, it all clicked. I think. I hope. I'm pretty sure.

Of course she could have made her announcement just to please her parents, as some will probably point out. That motivation in and of itself wouldn't be entirely wrong, though. Pleasing our parents (honoring them in the language of the second table of the Law) is of course central to the life of a three-year old.

The fact that she is only three does gives me some pause. Could she really understand substitutionary atonement? Total depravity? Grace? Probably not in the way that a systematic theologian should. For that matter, as an ordained pastor, I'm still learning too. The Lord Himself will alone determine the authenticity of any of our professions of faith, whether we are 3 or 93. 

But all of this makes me both grateful and burdened for the opportunity of raising "covenant children."

Children of the Covenant--that's what we in the Reformed tradition call them--those kids who are raised in Bible-reading, Sabbath keeping, Christ-honoring, Church-serving homes. Do these small persons need to legitimately repent of their sins and express true faith? Yes. Must they be born again to see the Kingdom of God? Certainly. Is it possible that this could even happen at a young age. I don't see any reason why not.

When a child is raised in the covenant from birth, baptized with the sign of water and regarded as a legitimate member of the covenant community--with all the duties and privileges incumbent upon them from an early age--no wonder it sinks in at some point and they "get it." That's the way it is supposed to be. All glory to the Triune God.

Yes, it is astounding when a drug addict turns to Christ, or a gang member repents and turns to faith in Jesus, or a death-row inmate gives a stunning and shocking testimony of God's saving grace.

But one of the best testimonies of all is this one, "I was raised in the faith."

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Junia the Female Apostle: Checkmate in Favor of Women's Ordination?

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was (Romans 16:7 NIV). 

Egalitarian and feminist evangelicals would have us to believe that Romans 16:7 is indisputable evidence in favor of women's ordination in the early church. After all, they will reason, this mysterious first century believer, Junia (in other ancient manuscripts, 'Junias'), is not only given the title of "apostle" by Paul himself, but she also ranks as "outstanding" among them!

Reasoning forward, then, we can assume that if the Apostle Paul and the New Testament itself for that matter both approve of the office of apostle for Junia(s), all other evidence against female officers in the church has been dismantled de facto.

After all, how can we withhold women from the office of elder today if they were welcomed even among the ranks of the apostles in Paul's age?

But the case might not be so clear cut after all. 

A computer search for all relevant variations of "Junia" in ancient Koine Greek in the classical era (9th century BC - 5th century AD, a total of 8,203 works) turns up only three results (cf. John Piper and Wayne Grudem Eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006. p. 79-81). 

Among these three scants results, the data is decidedly, well, undecided. One referent is definitely a female--in a letter from Plutarch (ca. 50 - ca. 120 AD), we are told the sister of Brutus was named Junia.

The second and third are references to our Junia currently under discussion. One comes from Epiphanius (AD 315 - 403) and muddies the water considerably: he asserts that Junia was a man and eventually became bishop of Apameia! That he adds some historical information to an otherwise mysterious person would seem to fortify his assertion. He apparently knows something we otherwise did not.

Chrysostom (347-407 AD), contrary to Epiphanius, assumed Junia was in fact a female, probably since most names ending in "ia" or "as" in Greek are feminine. But these aren't firm rules for naming, however. Our Greek New Testament contains central male characters such as Isaias, Elias, Andreas, and Silas--all men.

A fourth computer result, this time in Latin, turns up in the writings of Origen, one of the more excellent ancient historians. He makes our research even more confounding: he too--using the masculine singular nominative case--takes it for granted that Junias was a man.

Of the four ancient references to the name "Junia(s)" two of the four are men. Of the three references that refer specifically to the Junia(s) of Romans 16:7, two of three refer to a man. This is hardly the "checkmate" argument from a narrative text that egalitarians and feminists have held it to be.

I am convinced that this inconclusive data drives us back again to the much clearer prescriptive texts in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35; 1 Timothy 2:8-3:7 and Titus 1:5-9 that expressly reserve the office of teaching elder to men.  

For more reasons that I hold to a complementarian position, see here

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fl. Follow on Twitter at @matt_everhard.