Is complementarianism more important than infant baptism? Thoughts from Carl Trueman

In a a very thoughtful post at the Reformation 21 blog Carl Trueman warns us against allowing the culture wars to skew our priorities when it comes to faithful theology and practice. Simply put, he asks why some conservative Christians assume that barring church offices to women is more important than insisting on a faithful practice of the sacrament of baptism or of the Lord’s Supper.

To be sure, Trueman is aware that many conservatives regard the issue of women’s ordination as a test case for whether or not someone accepts the authority of Scripture. In fact, he admits that in many cases this judgment is appropriate. However, he warns us that not all those who advocate opening the offices of the church to women do so because they reject the authority of Scripture. As Trueman puts it,

I have indeed come across those who argue for women’s ordination on the grounds that Paul was simply wrong; but I have also met those who think we have simply moved on from Paul’s time, that he was right then but that his teaching cannot be applied directly to the twenty-first century context.  Further, I have met those who profess to hold to inerrancy and who  think that the relevant texts are authoritative but that the complementarian understanding of them is wrong.  The latter two classes of people seem to me to be raising primarily hermeneutical issues; and the last group in particular does not seem, on the face of it, to be advocating a necessarily low view of scripture in the typical sense of the phrase.   Indeed, I see no reason why one could not be an egalitarian and an inerrantist.  And if it is a hermeneutical difference, how does one decide that this particular difference among inerrantists is more egregious than, say, those between Baptists and Paedobaptists or Dispensationalists and Amillennialists?

To be sure, Trueman is not advocating women’s ordination. He notes that he is part of a denomination (the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) that opposes women’s ordination and affirms infant baptism. But he notes that far too often Evangelicals are winning to downplay fundamental disagreements about baptism or the Lord’s Supper, while allowing no compromise on the issue of women’s ordination. At best, he suggests, this indicates that their priorities are somewhat skewed.

It is interesting to consider Trueman’s point in light of what John Calvin said about when Christians may leave a church. For Calvin a Christian could only separate from a church if that church was failing to preach the gospel or improperly administering the sacraments. On all other questions – whether of discipline, church order, or worship – Christians were to endure differences while maintaining unity. His main concern was quite evident. Calvin believed the unity of the church is grounded in the gospel and in nothing else. The sacraments were non-negotiable because they related directly to the proclamation of the gospel.

It is true that modernity has given rise to issues that Calvin could not have anticipated, and that the church needs to take very seriously the modernist challenge to the authority of the creation order, natural law, and Scriptural teachings regarding the vocations of men and women. But as I think Trueman implies, we need to distinguish between the radical rejection of creation and Scriptural authority represented by some egalitarians, and genuine disagreements about the implications of gender differences for church order and practice. In short, we should not pretend that these latter disagreements are more important than the gospel itself.

In an age when the church is increasingly politicized and in which the culture wars between liberals and conservatives are coming more and more to dominate everything that Christians do or think, Trueman’s reminders are worth considering.

About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on August 28, 2012, in Culture War, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Is complementarianism more important than infant baptism? Thoughts from Carl Trueman.

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