OK, that should be a sufficiently provocative title! 🙂
Peter Kirk commented on an earlier post and gave me some advice–advice which I would normally consider quite good sense. Here it is:
But maybe you are going a bit too far, at least to keep yourself out of trouble, in suggesting that those who do not accept women’s ministry may be guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Now I would normally take that advice, because heating up a debate such as this is commonly quite unhelpful, but in this case, I’m not going to, and instead I’m going to make my reasoning explicit, paint a target on myself, and see who wishes to take target practice. I do not mean to destroy dialogue, but I have claimed repeatedly that there must be a balance between expressing one’s views forcefully and allowing room for conversation in any dialogue. Often what passes for dialogue consists entirely of watered down arguments and sentiments, and results in a mental fog rather than an exchange of opinions. I would reference my responses to the Adrian Warnock interviews with Wayne Grudem as an example. I responded with some vigor to a number of points, yet at no time was I actually angry with Adrian or with Wayne Grudem. I know that some things that I said did offend a couple of people, but I think I said what was necessary in order to be honest.
Now I’m going to refer back to my response to that interview on a couple of points. First, however, a correction. I quote from my own post:
I would note however, that while I disagree with the idea of male-only church leadership, I am not particularly offended by churches that follow such a practice. Anyone who dislikes their view can go find another church, and there are plenty of those. What I object to is that this doctrine is made an essential of the faith. . . .
I am going to refine that position in this post, because I don’t think I drew the line correctly, and I think that my response has become more vigorous due to some experiences since that time.
In the same post, I also partially defend Grudem’s use of the term blasphemy for the views of another, from his viewpoint:
Now I know that Dr. Grudem retracted his acceptance of the term “blasphemy” when used of Steve Chalke (with whom I am not acquainted). I’m a little less happy with that retraction than others are. Don’t get me wrong here please. I appreciate the humility and the willingness to dialogue that it represents. But I wonder if at root there isn’t some justification for the word form Dr. Grudem’s point of view on the atonement. Now I can’t speak for him, but what suggests this to me is my own reaction from the other side. The claim that penal substitutionary atonement is the essence of the atonement tempts me to use the word blasphemy because I believe it paints such a wrong picture of God, one different from the revealed and experienced God. Now I’m also going to resist use of the term, though my own use of anti-God could easily be as provocative. Thus I understand both John Piper’s desire to use the term, and Wayne Grudem’s initial agreement.
Again, I want to refine that comment just a bit in this post by being more specific about why I use (and used) the term “blasphemy” in that particular context, and why I can understand its use by another against my own position. A bottom line point here, however, is that if anyone who is a part of the family of Jesus believes that I am in danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, my preference is that they say so. I may disagree with them, but I get the opportunity to examine my own beliefs and question myself, which is a good thing. I regard that as part of the attitude of repentance.
The Unpardonable Sin and Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
I need to say just a few words about the unpardonable sin. It is commonly equated, and quite scripturally so, with the phrase “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.” I am not going to fully defend my position on this in a post that will already be quite long, but I do not believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a single act, nor is the unpardonable sin singular. I have commented on this briefly in the Participatory Study Series pamphlet Repentance and Rejoicing:
One of the tasks of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin. If we turn away the Holy Spirit so much that we no longer hear His voice, we will no longer ask for pardon and it will, in fact, be too late.
I discuss this a bit further in my personal testimony, and also in a sermon which was broadcast on the radio here in Pensacola, and will be podcast via the Pacesetters Bible School New Blog within the next few weeks.
In summary, I believe that we are all more or less on the path between pardon and the unpardonable sin, which elicits the stern warning of Hebrews 6:4-6. There is a point of standing up against the urging of the Holy Spirit at which you will no longer hear the Holy Spirit speaking. When you get to that point, you will no longer as forgiveness, and thus will no longer be forgiven. Thus the unpardonable sin is that sin for which you do not ask pardon, and every time you resist the Holy Spirit, you head that direction. Fortunately, God’s grace is greater than our sin, and constantly pushes us to listen.
To go even further, however, I believe that every time we resist truth in any area of our life, we build habits of resistance that start to shut our ears to new light and to correction. If I become so angry with Wayne Grudem (see above), for example, or John Piper for their comments on penal substitutionary atonement, that I refuse in the future to hear anything they say, I have taken a step away from being corrected. Now obviously I can’t physically read or hear everything that anyone might desire. I’m talking about the attitude.
Gifts, Women’s Ministry, and Blasphemy
So this brings me to the actual point of this post. (I imagine you thought I was never going to manage that!) I start from the simple position that the Holy Spirit gives gifts in the church as he wills in order to do the work of ministry. Unlike our federal government, God doesn’t give unfunded mandates. The Holy Spirit can accomplish your call and your congregation’s call through you provided that you let him. The presence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church indicate God’s intention that those gifts be used in ministry.
Every time I close myself off to that call, every time I place a barrier in the way of the Holy Spirit carrying out his ministry in and through me, my family, or my congregation, I am speaking against the Holy Spirit, putting up my views and my agenda as greater than God’s. That is not only a form of idolatry, but when done in the face of the conviction of the Holy Spirit it is, I belive, a step on the road to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. That blasphemy will become unpardonable if I get to the point of being unable to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches (Revelation 2-3).
Now one caveat here. While I am now more offended than I was previously by churches who deny women a place in ministry according to their gifts, I do believe there is a substantial difference between believing that something is right and failing to do it and not being aware that something is right. Both are dangerous, because our awareness of the Holy Spirit–God’s breath in Christ’s body–is key to our Christian life. But the first can be disastrous in a short period of time, while the second erodes. If completely honest, those with the second error correct their course.
This does not merely apply to women’s ministry. It applies to all forms of restrictions on ministry. I have seen churches where ministry was artificially restricted based on age, on economic status, on whether one was part of the founding families of the church, on intellectual ability or lack thereof, or on a buddy system with the elders and pastor. All of these things are, I believe, a way of flying in the face of the work of the Holy Spirit.
My bottom line is this: Be open to what the Holy Spirit is actually doing. While you need some structure from sound doctrinal beliefs, it’s easy to be wrong and to place your own agenda above God’s agenda. The one way to be safe is to maintain that attitude of repentace, to remain correctable.