R Scott ClarkReformed minister and professor, Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California and Heidelblog is running a series about the Heidelberg Catechism and authority.

The first essay — ‘Heidelberg 104: Authority and Submission (1)’ — is particularly pertinent to Christians who mistakenly advocate Mosaic Law, theonomy and male supremacy.

It is unfortunate that the Reformed churches are affected by these scourges. I suspect it is because a significant number of Americans attending such churches as new members came from highly conservative congregations with erroneous ‘Christian’ teachings.

What follows is a summary of his excellent explanation, supported by the Heidelberg Catechism and Scripture. Emphases mine below.

Mosaic law

Civil punishments prescribed in Mosaic law:

expired with the death of Christ. This is how the civil punishments are interpreted in Reformed theology.

Theonomy:

or the teaching that the Mosaic civil laws have a bi[n]ding validity in exhaustive detail is contrary to the Reformed faith.

And Christianity in general.

The notion of a Promised Land is also no more:

There is now no national people of God and there are no more national promises. There is no earthly promised land and therefore the nature of the promise has changed. Believers are the Israel of God but we have no land promise since Christ is the land, the rest, and the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been broken down (Eph 2:14).

John Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians 6:2 says:

And that thou mayest live long on the earth. Moses expressly mentions the land of Canaan, “that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Exod. 20:12.) Beyond this the Jews could not conceive of any life more happy or desirable. But as the same divine blessing is extended to the whole world, Paul has properly left out the mention of a place, the peculiar distinction of which lasted only till the coming of Christ.

Home life

Reactionary Christians have an extreme interpretation of Ephesians 5 and 6 regarding authority in the home.

Clark unpacks what Paul meant:

This is not patriarchy nor the ontological (i.e., as a matter of being) subordination of females to males because Paul warns fathers not to be abusive and instructs them to be gracious and kind and patient with their children just as God has been gracious kind and gentle with us.

As Christians seek to re-assert creational and biblical patterns of living in our late-modern age, it is imperative that we do not over-react as some have done. I have heard and read discussions of “federal headship” of males over females in the new covenant. For example, some have inferred that, e.g., females may not or should not vote in a congregational election. Such an inference requires a series of assumptions that must be questioned. Most of the argument seems to rely on a degree of continuity with the Mosaic (old) covenant that is not exegetically or theologically defensible. Some of the arguments (e.g., that females are inherently inferior) that I have seen and read over the years are not worthy of Christians. These sorts of over-reactions to aspects of modern and and late-modern feminism do us no credit as we seek properly to insist that:

• There is a creational, natural order

• Creational order can be determined by looking carefully at creation

• There are two sexes (male and female)

• The two sexes are distinct and complementary

As for ‘federal headship’:

Paul did not invoke the “federal headship” principle nor did he invoke a male Patriarchy in order to justify his teaching. Christ is the only federal head of believers. A husband is just that, a caretaker. A father may be said to be the head of the house but only as a matter of administration not as a matter of being. As we saw above, for Paul, the father’s role in the house to be like Christ, to lead gently and self-sacrificially not abusively and most certainly not high-handedly.

Church life

Clark makes it clear that certain restrictions on women do not actually exist in Pauline teaching:

he nowhere implies that females may not vote in a congregational election.

As for women’s silence in church:

The problem was speaking up inappropriately. The problem was disorder in the worship service. The solution was order.

Creational order, not extremism

Clark concludes by noting that Paul and Peter acknowledged the order of creation, which we are still obliged to follow, but not to drastic extremes.

On the one hand:

Paul was not a sexist nor was he “hopelessly patriarchal” as one polemicist said in the 1990s. Nevertheless, we should not confuse Victorian prejudices with biblical teaching. Paul does not argue that men are inherently smarter or more rational than females. Peter recognized differences and similarities between men and women (1 Pet 3:7). We are both the heirs of the “grace of life.”

On the other:

Paul, like Peter, does teach a creational order. We are not free to disregard his instruction because it puts us at odds with the Zeitgeist (spirit of the age) or widely held assumptions.

Gentlemen favouring extremes would do well to take it easy on their wives and children.

Be Christlike in family relationships.

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