People of the Promise, Part One. Posted April 17, 2008
For those of you who need, or want a
diversion from Common/Uncommon
Grace, below is the first part of the exegesis concerning the vote of
women. The first part is reacting to the Second Paper, the second
part will follow in a few days and deal with the Church in Acts, the
third part will continue the second part. All of the post will be
found, not only on this site, but also at http://basketoffigs
Click on "Click here for Index" and follow the links.
Have fun. If fun for you would be to delete this post, then do it
and God bless you. I have tried to check for errata, but those
things always seem to raise their heads after "send" is clicked.
Pastor C. W. Powell, Colorado Springs.
Dear Brothers, Friends, Lurkers, OPC, PCA, and other NAPARC types.
This discussion began simply because I had become a bit weary—perhaps
testy—over what I perceived to be an improper characterization of
the "position" of the RCUS on women voting in the congregation. I do
not deny that it had become a sort of de facto position, even though
six times at least the Synod had denied the papers to be binding. So
the real position of the RCUS was the rather anomalous stance of
clinging to an "authoritative advice" that counseled the churches to
do something that was not mandated by the constitution. For the
constitution unambiguously says:
ARTICLE 2. Persons received into full communion with the Church by
confirmation, profession of faith, certificate, or renewal of
profession shall be regarded as communicant members. They shall be
entitled to the rights and privileges of the Church and can be
deprived of them only by due process of discipline.
The strongest proponents recognized from the beginning this tension
between the constitution and the papers, for they have attempted
several times [even in resolutions proposed in the 2nd and 3rd papers
to amend the constitution] and have failed each time. But instead of
submitting to the decision of the old Eureka Classis and later the
entire denomination, they continued to declare their failed
initiatives the authoritative voice of the church and lectured
everyone on obedience. This paragraph is only my opinion for I do
not know the hearts of men, but they did try over and over to make
male-only binding. They are my friends and colleagues, good men and
their intentions are good. That they have great zeal and conviction
The original three position papers received much less than a rousing
reception from the Eureka Classis. The first was referred to a
second committee to report the next year with a change in the makeup
of the committee. This committee recommended that classis overture
the churches to examine their constitutions…
also recommended wholesale amendments to the constitution of the RCUS
to bind the churches to male only voting. This was in the mid-
1960's. Many articles of the constitution and forms would have been
affected. Classes ignored the recommendations and voted simply to
submit the report to the congregations for study without the advice
to study their constitutions. The third committee, made up of new
members, brought a report to Classis three years later with
recommendations to adopt the recommendations of Report 2. This
report was not even received by Classis. You would have thought that
this would have ended the subject and the papers would have been an
anomaly of history. You would have been wrong.
I have emphasized in other posts the importance of creeds and
constitutions. An institution that ignores or downgrades its creeds
and constitutions is fooling around with its covenant structure and
begins to lose its identity. Pressure to do things alongside,
against, and away from the constitution causes a loss of confidence,
increased frustration, and fear among the members. Violations of
order begin to take place regularly as men overstep their authority
and seek to bypass the constitution because they know better what is
good for the denomination. In discipline, in organization, in
voting, in structure, the constitution is the foundation of
institutional unity and good will. Every member should be fully
confident that things will be done in a straightforward and good
faith manner. "Provide things honest in the sight of men" does not
refer only to money. Even David did not become king over Israel for
seven years after the death of Saul, because he waited for the
approval of all the tribes, even though he had been anointed by
Samuel and approved of by God.
I think I am thoroughly familiar with the arguments in the position
papers. There are many fine things in them and profitable for the
churches. I am not going to go line by line to try to refute the
arguments that have been raised to promote male-only voting. It
would be fun, but tedious and unprofitable. I agree with many of the
ideas, but object to the intemperate applications that are made. I
do not write for those who would not be dissuaded from "male-only
voting" if the stars fell from heaven; but for those who have been
uncomfortable and have not seen the results from this doctrine that
you would expect from the comforts of our blessed faith.
I do not believe that male voting is the sine qua non of the RCUS,
but perhaps I am wrong. I have been wrong before. I do not believe
that male-only voting is the necessary biblical application from male-
authority. In reality, the authority of the wise husband is an
immense liberty for his wife, in the same way that the subjection of
the church to Christ is the foundation of the immense liberty of the
church. Thus, the immense liberty of the woman of Proverbs 31 is by
no means outside, but under the authority of her husband.
My preferred position, which is the true official position, is that
voting is a matter of liberty in each congregation, for the
application of clear biblical principles to deny women voting is
either by doubtful exegesis, by scare tactics concerning godless
feminism, or by improbable logic. As it would be presumptuous for any
spiritual council to seek to apply the principle of male headship in
the same way to every marriage, so it is presumptuous to seek the
application to be the same in every congregation. Every congregation
has its own history, customs, ethnic makeup, and traditions.
I also might say that I have many books on the church and have read
them—most of them. I have Berkhof, Turretin, Calvin, and many
others. I have the confessions and creeds.
I also write to bolster the morale of those who disagree with the
emphasis upon male voting. I write for those churches that have been
disrupted because of this teaching. I write for myself, to show that
there is a firm and solid exegetical position that is more in tune
with the principles of Reformed Theology than the practice of some of
the churches in history. Church history is as much a history of the
failures of the church as its triumphs.
If I thought that male only voting would destroy feminism I would
espouse it in a moment for that reason only. But evils of feminism
are not the result of women voting—they are the result of the
apostasy of males many years ago in Reformed and other orthodox
churches. Even today demographics are said to indicate that
elections in the United States are settled by white male voters, who
decide at the last moment.
I do not write to persuade any woman to vote who doesn't want to, or
to persuade any man to vote who doesn't care to. I would not
counsel any woman to try to vote if her church does not allow it, but
to vote without a twinge of conscience if it is allowed. If she
votes to be "in the face" of her husband, shame on her. We are not
to let our good be evil spoken of. Sometimes we may do things that
send a message to our community quite different from what we think we
are sending. The hearer will hear according to his own
presuppositions; what we think is imminently cogent because of our
experiences and knowledge might be utter foolishness to him because
of his experiences and knowledge. Every good teacher must yield to
the student's customs and mind patterns if the lesson is to be
learned. "I am all things to all men, that by all means I might win
some" is the way Paul put it.
The problem with remnant theology is that the remnant keeps getting
smaller and smaller, and soon there are remnants within the remnant
and then remnants within the remnants. At the end poor Cyrano can
only boast in his white plume. Christ's resurrection, however,
guarantees that the church will not be reduced to such, but will
cover the earth. If we do not do it, somebody else will, as Mordecai
told Esther, because it is the decree of God. God gave Esther power
[authority] over the king with wonderful results for God's people.
Amen and Amen.
Part One: If I might speak plainly: the exegesis seeking to
establish male headship in Section II of the Report No. 2 (1965) is
embarrassing and puerile. Is that direct enough? I will not go
through it piece by piece for I do believe that the majority of the
ministers of the RCUS handle Scripture much better than this.
1. The reference to 1Cor 5 and the discipline of the incestuous
man. Is it clear that Paul is excommunicating the sinner and asking
only that the congregation treat the man as an outcast; or is he
calling on the elders of the church to deliver the man to Satan? I
think it is the latter. Paul is usually very careful about imposing
apostolic authority [Gal. 1; 1Cor 10:15l etc,] I have read the
paragraph over and over in the position paper, and am not sure yet
what it says. But this is trivial.
2. Not so trivial: Casting of lots in Acts 1 is called voting
by the membership. But lots were cast to condemn Achan and his
family, and no exegetical legerdemain could read this as a vote of
anyone. As Calvin says, the church put the election into the hands
of God, taking it out of the hands of men. Proverbs says that the
lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing is of the Lord.
In other places in the Bible the lot was used to choose the
scapegoat, to divide the land among the tribes; to appoint the duties
of the Levites; the mariners cast lots to find that it was Jonah that
caused the storm. In Nehemiah's day lots were cast to see who would
live in Jerusalem. It would be wrong now to try to discover God's
will that way. These were not votes, at least not in any modern
sense. In many cases it was like the modern custom of "drawing
straws." Whitefield had a famous disagreement with Wesley, who often
cast lots to try to find the will of God. The custom was to use two
stones, of different colors, one for "yes" and one for "no." The
one that came from the bag first determined the answer to the
question—or something to that effect. In could also mean a bit of
pottery, with certain names written on each, so that the choice would
fall upon whichever name came out of the bag first.
The other apostles were not chosen by men, but by Christ, and this
one to replace Judas should have equal prestige. We will speak of
this more. To say that "They cast forth their lots" means that they
voted is rather like the Baptists saying the Ethiopian was immersed
because he and Phillip came "out of" the water. To get a vote out of
this passage shows desperation to find voting somewhere so it can be
captured and be made to behave.
3. Most serious, in the view of this writer, is to make an
absolute of the Representative Headship principle. Much of what is
said in the paper cannot be refuted, and there is no desire to do so,
but there is far too much hanging on this good nail, the good nail of
a. God is the only absolute sovereign, with absolute authority
over all men in their thoughts words and deeds. His commandment is
exceeding broad and covers all creation. Not so the authority of any
man. No person has absolute sovereignty over any other person, for
this would entail seizing authority from God and enslaving our fellow.
b. Adam represented his race in one act only: the
transgression. All the righteous acts that he did afterwards did not
bring righteousness to his seed. How could the sins of other men
add any more to the wrath that was already upon the seed of Adam?
c. David's sin did not bring judgment upon his whole family. It
was more the act of God's discipline than the idea of headship, for
was David the head of Absalom, Amnon and his other adult sons? Why
didn't wrath come upon all his sons, or was he head only of some of
them? David was a man after God's own heart—didn't that count for
something concerning his sons?
d. Noah's family is certainly saved by his righteous obedience
to God, but why didn't it extend beyond the flood? Noah's faith
resulted in their temporal salvation from the flood, but could not and
did not bring them eternal life, or we would all be saved by his
faith and not be having this conversation. Only Christ's headship is
universal in both the sense of absolute over all creation and
absolute over each member of the church. No human representation or
authority is absolute, except the First and Last Adam's.
e. I am distressed to have it stated in an "official position"
of our church that Israel standing and affirming the covenant was not
a central act of worship. This oath is the very center of our
worship. Was not God calling us to worship when he said, "Look unto
me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and
there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of
my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every
knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear." (Isa 45:22-23) What is
more descriptive of worship that bowing the knee and swearing
allegiance to God? If this isn't worship, what is? It is
interesting that when Paul quotes this as applying to the exalted
Christ in Phil. 2, the word "swear" is changed to "confess that Jesus
If confession is not worship, etc.? The most precious oaths that we
take are in worship, in the presence of God and man: Church
membership vows; vows of officers; marriage vows; confirmation vows;
baptismal vows. In fact, the nature of true worship is contrasted
with ceremonialism in Psalm 50: "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay
thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble:
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." This is the very
definition of true worship, not the offerings of bulls and goats.
f. It is the contention of this writer that this representative
headship was limited and not everywhere universal in its application,
serving to illustrate in a limited way the absolute headship of
Christ over his church, who extends His righteousness to a thousand
generations, but in a spiritual and certainly not in a physical way,
not applicable to all the fleshly seed. Even Abraham's faith was not
extended to all his natural offspring [Rom. 9 and John 8:39].
g. In the same way it is uncomfortable to find that the evidence
that only men stood to the covenant is because of the warning, "Come
not near your wives," and therefore only heads of families stood
there. Why this restriction on sex on that occasion? If sexual
activity is unclean, then both men and women would be unclean and the
warning would be for the benefit of both men and women. If the sex
were merely a distraction from the solemnity of the oath, then the
same warning would benefit both men and women. If the argument hangs
on such a fragile peg, then it ought not be imposed on the churches.
Does the restriction mean that only married men were there? If this
applies to voting in the church, then only married men should vote.
It is not completely impossible to conceive of the whole number of
adults, men and women, standing to the covenant. Woodstock in 1969
enjoyed an attendance of one-half million young people on 600-acre
dairy farm. The logistics of having several million souls assemble
at the foot of Sinai would be formidable, but Moses was skilled at
such things, having led the people out of Egypt in an orderly
manner This group of ex-slaves did not have an orderly system of
law or justice, for Moses judged all cases until the judges were
appointed in Exodus 18, and there is no evidence that these were
heads of families, but Jethro said "thou shalt provide out of all the
people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness;
and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of
hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens…."
This seems to have been a system of government quite independent from
the "elders" or heads of tribal units, such as those Moses met with
in Egypt and who had eaten with Moses and his father-in-law Ex. 18.
Moses certainly did not simply commit the judging to the tribal
elders, although there easily could have been some overlap. The
judges were "able men" provided out of all the people. They were
chosen for their ability, not for their genes. It is also without
question that in later years at least one these judges was a woman.
[Judges 4] Deborah was also a prophetess. Her office might well
have been a judgment on Israel, but would to God we had such a
judgment upon our nation in these days!
In fact, Hebrews 9 gives information about what happened at Sinai
that Moses does not include. "For when Moses had spoken every
precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of
calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and
sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the
blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he
sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the
ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and
without shedding of blood is no remission." (Heb 9:19-22 and also
This sprinkling is said to have included those who heard every
precept of the law: "all the people." This would mean that both men
and women were there. Were the women bound as individuals or only as
wives? It is inconceivable to this writer that this blood of
sprinkling would have been only to the men or even only to adults.
[See below concerning an analogous event in Nehemiah.]
h. To say that women and children being mentioned in some
places "gives the impression that the meeting of the congregation
often did not include women and children" gives the impression that
the impression was impressed before the words were read. It is
strikingly similar to the penumbra of the constitution of the United
States where the right of privacy was found by the Supreme Court to
grant a woman's right to an abortion. Legal decisions should not be
based upon penumbras, and exegesis must not rest upon impressions.
i. But even if we assume [which this writer does NOT assume]
that only males assembled at the foot of Sinai, it is without
question that at the renewal of the covenant in Nehemiah's day
[Nehemiah 9-11] included "men, women, and those who could understand"
and all said "amen" and raised their hands in a holy oath. [see my
article at http://basketoffigs
on "Affirmation and Oath in Nehemiah."] Male
representatives "sealed" the covenant and are listed in Nehemiah 10,
but the rest of the people affirmed it with a curse and an oath "to
walk in God's law…" These, among others, included "their wives,
their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and
those who ratified the renewed covenant. All the people evidently
means all the people.
j. It is also depressing to read: "The church still grows mainly
through the bringing up of covenant children in Christ-centered
homes." Then why do so many of our youth abandon our church? Why
have we grown mostly in the past forty years from Baptists and
Pentecostals and independents coming to our church? Why are new
ministers not coming from the old churches and the old German
families? There is not a shred of evidence for this statement in the
New Testament, and nothing at all in the book of Acts. The New
Testament pattern is the "Lord adds such as should be saved." It
is "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord will be saved" as
Joel put it. I will expand this below in the second part of this
paper. Did the church begin in the Spirit and is now made perfect
and full by the flesh?
It might be pertinent to know exactly how many elders and ministers
in our church were, in fact, brought up in Reformed homes and
churches. I suspect that there would be a great many that were not.
There must be another principle at work here.
k. Section IV which is the heart of the argument contains almost
no exegesis, but statement after statement after statement with no
Scriptural support. I would be glad to exegete but there is nothing
to exegete. I have been challenged to do exegesis, and I will below,
but in the many passages of Scripture that directly bear on this
subject, but which were ignored by this paper. This exegesis will
refute the most extravagant and gratuitous assumptions of this
section. I suspect that there is no exegesis because there is little
direct evidence with respect to voting, so we must go to the nature
of the church itself. Much better is Report No. 1, but it is the
application to voting that I oppose. Report No. 1 also generally
ignores the evidence in Acts of more than male participation in the
New Covenant. Besides, Report No. 1 was referred to Committee No.
2, whose recommendations were ignored by the Eureka Classis.
l. Why do wives and children need a representative before God?
Is Christ no complete savior and Mediator for wives and daughters?
Is God not their heavenly Father? Can they not come immediately to
God for all their needs and directions? If it means that a father
prays for them as Job prayed for his sons and daughters, then that is
fine and acceptable. If it means governmental head, of course, for
none of us live without government. Certainly they need fathers and
mothers, protectors, nurturers, teachers and shepherds. If head
means "source" again we agree. But this is not exactly the same as
representative. Does not God hear their prayers and their cries
directly? Is He in a foreign, far-away country? Will he judge women
and children on some other foundation than their personal faith and
obedience? I do not think this is the spirit of the New Testament,
who presents Christ alone as the mediator between God and man—
and "man" includes the women, also. There is no separate salvation
for women that is at arm's length from Christ. There is only one
door, and both men and women must enter that way.
m. Most serious of all, most of the exegesis that is offered is
based upon the unity of the covenant idea that was rejected by the
RCUS paper on the theology of Norman Shepherd. The only way you can
shoehorn patriarchy into the government of the church is to adopt a
form of this theology. Israel was a tribal government, including
state and worship. The priests were members of one tribe and
inherited their post by their fleshly genes. The kings were of
another tribe, and except for Saul, left the kingdom to their sons.
Only the prophets were outside the patriarchy and no one ever voted
for them. There was no election of tribal elders in Israel, but the
people did at least assent to the election of the king, but it was
rebellion for them even to want a king. I grant that probably only
males voted for the king, or some of them. Even Saul and David were
chosen directly by God, anointed by Samuel, confirmed by the heads of
tribes [perhaps]. But the rule for succession of judges, tribal
elders, and kings was probably primogeniture—
This is certainly not the rule in the New Testament for the church.
Are families in the church? Of course, for the promise is to Israel
and their children and to those [of us] who were afar off. Is the
family a unit of government in the church? That's a stretch,
considering the data from the book of Acts.
n. But what does this have to do with the church? We have one
prophet, one priest, one king and He is in Heaven. None of our
elections reach to Him. Further remarks on representative headship
are made below.
Samuel came to his office by the vow of his mother at worship.
Imagine, a woman giving away the son of her husband to be brought up
in the house of Eli and his wicked apostate immoral sons. Elkanah is
conspicuously absent from this whole vow, this exercise of authority,
this exercise of staggering implications. Under the law a man could
permit his wife to exercise independent authority with regard to a
vow. There is no evidence that such permission was given in advance
to Hannah by her husband, though he certainly must have acceded to it
after the fact, if in nothing more than silence. He was either a
wimp [not a theological term] or knew something we do not know. How
could he entrust a woman with such enormous authority?
All of the patriarchal kings of Israel and the establishment of the
prophets after Samuel rested upon this vow of Hannah. She didn't
even speak, but spoke in her heart. We can say this is an
exception. An exception to what? The rule is written in the law and
she did not transgress the law. Doesn't it follow the rule that men
may give permission to women to exercise a great deal of authority,
so long it is not against the Ten Commandments? Why may not a church
allow a woman to vote in a congregational meeting? If Hannah can
make a decision involving the life and training of Elkanah's son, why
would it be wrong for the men in Colorado to entrust their wives with
a share of the decision as to whom will be elders in the church?
Further, the entire race of the kings of Israel came from a woman of
Moab, of a nation that came from the incestuous union of Lot and his
daughter in a cave after the burning of Sodom. By faith Ruth left
her father's house and went to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, met
Boaz, got married, and became the grandmother of King David, and is
included in the lineage of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 1:5. Why is the
story of David's great-grandmother important enough to be included in
The significant vote in the whole sorry episode of Israel demanding a
king--a rejection of the rule of God with horrid results for Israel
as Samuel predicted--was the vote of the men of Israel in demanding a
king. But the Spirit was not yet given and that which is born of
the flesh will always produce the work of the flesh. Free voting
would wait in the church until the implications of the indwelling of
the Holy Spirit and the priesthood of the believer would be more
fully understood. That would take centuries, although it seems to
have been practiced in a most embryonic form in the book of Acts.
But when voting came it was emphatically not an exercise in Jewish
patriarchalism or primogeniture. That was imposed on the church by
European tribalism appealing to the Old Covenant. They also imported
the uncleanness of women with the corollary that those who minister
in the church must be celibate.
o. The concept that the church is a tribal institution was the
fundamental error of Rome and has afflicted the national churches of
Holland, England, Germany and their children in America. It
contaminated the very essence of Byzantium, whose emperors thought
that Byzantium was the kingdom of Christ. When the Lord Jesus
returned the reigning emperor would meet Him on the Mount of Olives
and surrender up to Him the symbols of the empire. It seems
incredible to us today, but this was unity-of-the-
with a vengeance. It was refuted at the council of Jerusalem with
the rejection of circumcision. In this they were in line with
"11If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for
under it the people received the law,) what further need was there
that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizidec, and
not be called after the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being
changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. 13 For
he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of
which no man gave attendance at the altar. 14 For it is evident that
our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing
concerning priesthood. 15 And it is yet far more evident: for that
after the similitude of Melchizidec there ariseth another priest, 16
Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the
power of an endless life. 17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest
for ever after the order of Melchizidec. 18 For there is verily a
disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and
unprofitableness thereof." (Heb 7:11-18)
Everything pertaining to the order established by Aaron and Moses is
swept away by the inauguration of Christ as priest after the order of
Melchizidec. This order is instituted by the power of the endless
life of our Lord ruling the church from heaven by the power of the
Holy Spirit, working in the life and heart of every believer. The
power of the church is not derived from the human seed of Abraham,
Isaac, Jacob, or Aaron but from the power of the seed of the word of
God energized by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven from the throne of
the Lord Jesus.
This was the reason the writer of Hebrews was amazed that the Jew
didn't understand the implication of Abraham paying tithes to
Melchizidec. That indicated that Melchizidec-
mother or lineage [as far as the Bible record is concerned]--
greater than Abraham and the whole patriarchal system, greater than
Levi, greater than Aaron. Why would any Jew miss the implication?
Because they were blinded by fleshly things. Family would be
included in the church, but no family could contain the church.
If Psalm 110 predicted that "My Lord" would be a priest after the
order of Melchizidec, so the rule of Moses, Aaron, Levi and all must
pass away. The new wine would not be put into old bottles.
The writer of the book of Hebrews would show the true unity of the
Old and the New Covenant is the faith of the Elect, which faith is in
Christ alone in all ages. [Heb. 11] He is the true representative of
the people of God and rules the church directly by His Spirit.
Ephesians 4. There is not a hint that these gifts are distributed
from father to son, but are the direct endowment of the Holy Spirit
as gifts to His church.
Neither is there the slightest evidence that these men are made
officers by men, for the Scripture says, "But all these worketh that
one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he
will." (1Co 12:11)
No eldership, no deaconate, or no pastoral office is subject to
inheritance or to the will of the flesh, but all are the appointment
of God. This is the reason that the churches fasted and prayed
before they laid hands on anyone.
p. Finally, lest there be any doubt in the matter whether or not
the church is a patriarchy, the Lord in His sovereign power
determined that it would be Sarah, and not Abraham, who would
distinguish between the true Church and that which came from the
flesh of Abraham. Though Abraham was the Father of the faithful, yet
his natural seed produced many spurious children. The Lord used the
mouth of Sarah to declare that the "son of the bondwoman" could not
inherit with the son of the freewoman, and Abraham was constrained to
cast Ishmael out, indicating to Israel forever, that there was more
to being a child of God than descending from a patriarch.
In this matter Sarah's decree would rule the church even over into
the New Testament. [See Galatians 4] Ishmael's mocking of Isaac
would prophetically signal the hatred of the fleshly seed for those
born of the Spirit, as Paul would write in Galatians 4:29.
This was not a usurpation of Sarah independent of her husband, for
God appeared and told Abraham to do what Sarah said, to cast out
Hagar and Ishmael. Sarah words were prophetic words, for neither the
seed of the flesh nor the fleshly church can inherit the kingdom of
God. Sarah's word still rules us today. How pregnant are her
words! "The son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of
the freewoman." The apostle interprets this to mean only the sons of
faith inherit the kingdom of God.
The application to voting in the church? It seems that a woman
[Sarah] had a most decisive vote in what the very nature of the
church would be: born of promise and of spirit. It would seem that
this is a rather important issue, even more important than the
selection of elders in local congregation. Certainly more important
than whether or not to build a new edifice. In fact, God told
Abraham to "hearken to" or "obey" the voice [thunderings] of his
wife. [Genesis 21:12] It seems that God is saying something very
important in this incident. [Of course, as every husband knows, the
thunderings of a wife are not always the voice of God. Abraham had
direct revelation in this matter. However, Sarah's voice still
thunders to us concerning the church. Sarah called Abraham "lord,"
[1Peter 3:5] but his authority enhanced hers; it did not diminish
it. Her faith made her a princess with real authority, as Calvin
says [see below].
There is more: The freewoman, the mother of all who are born of the
Spirit, represents the Jerusalem which is above [Galatians 4:25,
26]. The bondwoman is that Jerusalem, born of a natural seed, which
is in bondage with her children. Brethren, if we are in Christ we
are children of the freewoman, and not in bondage to Jerusalem or her
ways. The new wine would be put in new bottles.
This writer would commend you to Calvin's comments on this incident
in his commentaries on Genesis 21. And especially his comment on
Genesis 17:16 on the change of name which anticipated the change in
Moreover, God changes the name of Sarai, in order that he may extend
her preeminence far and wide, which in her former name had been more
restricted. For the letter y (yod) has the force among the Hebrews of
the possessive pronoun: this being now taken away, God designs that
Sarah should everywhere, and without exception, be celebrated as a
sovereign and princess. And this is expressed in the context, when
God promises that he will give her a son, from whom at length nations
and kings should be born. And although at first sight this
benediction appears most ample, it is still far richer than it seems
to be, in the words here used, as we shall see in a little time. –
See Calvin, Commentaries, in loc.
This is the end of Part One of this paper. Parts Two and Three will
be posted later.