People of the Promise, Part II

Posted to the RCUS Forum, April 20, 2008

C. W. Powell


Below is Part Two of exegesis arising from a critique of the papers on Women Voting adopted in the mid-sixties but never ratified by constitutional amendments, although several attempts were made.


These exegetical efforts are part of my repentance concerning whatever harm I might have done by promoting these ideas in my early years, and not opposing them more vigorously in later years.  I was confused for many years and only recently have, in my own mind, achieved a certain clarity concerning this subject.


I hope they will be a comfort and blessing to those who believe that it is not out of place for women to vote in the congregation of a church governed by Presbyterian principles.  I also hope that they will only be a very minor irritation for those who do not.


I do not seek to change any principle of the government of the RCUS in writing these papers.  I am happy that this matter is still a matter of some ambiguity and liberty in the churches, but it should be so understood to be that.



This is Part Two of the examination of the Position Papers on Women Voting.  Part One, if you missed it may be found at


Part Two:  The weakest aspect of this report [Number 2] was what it did not do.  The most important aspect of the subject of women voting was completely ignored with the gratuitous assumption:  "The authority of the church is also a Spiritual authority, but that has no direct bearing on the subject of this study and so will not be involved in our discussion."  What?  Can it be that human authority does not rest upon and is not defined by Spiritual authority?  Is the work of the Spirit to be left out of this discussion?   It is true that human authority is derivative, but derivative of what?  I will not drink the water if I do not know from whence it comes.  That is the fatal flaw of the Second Report, in the view of this writer.  To ignore the authority of the Holy Spirit is to make the human and fleshly absolute.


If we want to know the nature of the church and our relationship to her, it might be very important that we understand the nature of her founding as it is set forth in the book of Acts.  The work of the Spirit is not fulfilled by Moses; Moses is fulfilled by the work of the Spirit.  Why go to types and shadows when the sun is blazing in the sky?


As we saw previously in my post on 1Cor. 11, “Why would we go to Moses to find out how the Holy Spirit rules the church?  Too much reliance on Moses to interpret Christ instead of using Christ to interpret Moses might lead us into slave-holding, 7th day Sabbatarianism, paedo-communion, polygamy, British Israelism and her cousins in Germany, Holland and America, stoning Sodomites and unruly children, and denying ourselves a good ham at Easter.  I believe the danger of a misplaced patriarchy will much more tend in that direction than women voting will tend toward feminism.”   A reasonable man would not advocate slaying the baby because he might grow up to kill his father.


I will confess, that for many years I studied Acts to refute the Pentecostals, seeking to show that Luke did not say what they said he says.  I also wanted to flee from congregationalism, so often read the bible to refute congregationalism. I also and still do hate feminism and often read the Bible to refute feminism.  I will not vote for Hillary or Obama and godly women I know will not either.  It is important to refute all these errors, but it is far more important to know what Luke is saying than what he is not saying.   Luke wrote his gospel to give an account of the work of Jesus before His resurrection; he wrote Acts to give an account of the work of the Son of God in Heaven building His church by the direct work of the Holy Spirit.


When a baby is born it is possible to determine what sort of thing it is.  Human babies display the image of God very early, as every Christian mother and father knows.  The nature of the true church emerges very clearly in the account that Luke gives.  The account of Luke in Acts is not a random assortment of interesting events, but a clear delineation of Christ’s work from heaven in establishing the true church. The words are Luke’s, but clearly the Holy Spirit had a purpose in the inclusion of every detail and every word.


We should begin, perhaps, with Ephesians 1: in Paul’s prayer for the church:  “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us–ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.”   Ephesians 1:18-23  


As Calvin says, Christ is the head and the church is His body.  This is a wonderful mystery: the church is the fullness of him that filleth all in all.  Christ, the Mediator, is somehow incomplete without His bride.  Just as it was not good for Adam to be alone, so Christ must have His church.  He has also endowed His bride with great authority and glory.  The power of the Last Adam is poured into His Church by the Holy Spirit.  The energy and power of the godly woman is enhanced by the love and sacrifice and service of a godly husband, whose life is enhanced and energized by the powerful work of his Head, the Mediator, whose life was characterized by the power and decree of his Head, the Triune God.   Paul says we are to love our wives like Christ did His church.  Jesus said not to seek greatness by authority, but by service. 


“But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.  But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.  For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)


The last act of Christ’s earthly life was to wash the disciples’ feet, not to institute a sacrament, but as Calvin says, to give us an example of service to one another.  To say this rule is only for the Apostles is foolishness, and would imply that the Lord’s Supper is only for them, for Christ instituted the Feast only among the apostles, not as the heads of families, but as the foundation [their doctrine] of His Church. [Not the patriarchy—so much for paedo-communion].  The Lord’s Supper is therefore observed in the Church, not in families.  The Feast is for all believers to give them spiritual strength to serve one another. Calvin says that the love of the brethren is despised because


“every man thinks more highly of himself than he ought, and despises almost every other person. Nor did he intend merely to inculcate modesty, but likewise to lay down this rule of brotherly love, that they should serve one another; for there is no brotherly love where there is not a voluntary subjection in assisting a neighbor.”   In loc, Commentary on John 13. 


The Holy Spirit raised Christ from the dead [Romans 8:11].  This same power works in those who believe.  Their works of faith, hope, and charity are the work of the Holy Spirit which is poured out upon those who believe. Therefore Jesus said to the apostles, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth; go…”  He did not tell them to go and have children, but to preach the gospel, because the church would be born not of a fleshly seed, but of a spiritual one, the word of God which lives and abides forever.  We are not the children of God by our fleshly birth, but by our heavenly one, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” 1Peter 1:23.


The creation mandate is to go and have children; the mandate of the new creation is to preach the gospel to every creature. The creation mandate is included in the gospel mandate, but they are not the same thing, although our children are certainly included in the great commission and are nigh unto the promises, the eternal covenant, and faith.  The Great Commission begins in our families, but our loved ones will not be saved by nature but by the work of the Holy Spirit.   Grace overcomes Adam’s nature or none of us would be saved.  The Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son and is the author of both nature and of grace.  This is the reason why our children must be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.


The church was not born of Israel or the physical seed of Abraham or of any other natural work.  The church is the bride of Christ, born of incorruptible seed, the word of God, which lives and abides forever.  In this there is an analogy between the church and the Lord Jesus, who was not born of the seed of the flesh but of the Holy Ghost in the body of the Virgin Mary.  Man had nothing to do with the incarnation of our Lord Jesus.  The church was the direct production of the Holy Spirit, moving in the hearts of individuals, uniting them with Christ and to His body.  Certainly the seed of the promise was enclosed generally in the nation of Israel, but the seed of the promise believed the Lord Jesus and followed Him.  The kingdom was taken from Israel after the flesh. [John 10 and Matt. 21:43] and given to a righteous nation bringing forth the fruit of the kingdom. [Is 26:12-15]


The soul of Israel was the Promise of Christ and the seed that believed; just as the life and soul of the church are those that believe in Christ and “embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby … obtain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal; but moreover, also, to be so united more and more to His sacred body by the Holy Spirit, who dwells both in Christ and in us, that, although He is in heaven and we on earth, we are nevertheless flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone, and live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are governed by one soul.” HC76.  Those who have not the Spirit are none of His, though they are members of the visible church [Romans 8:7-9].


The gospel net catches all kinds of fish and the final separation between elect and non-elect will not be made until the end of the world [Matt.  13:47].  Not only are children of the flesh introduced into the church by natural procreation, but many, like Simon the Sorcerer [Acts 8:13], enter for non-gospel reasons.  But the soul of the church are those born of the Spirit.


In this passage under consideration [Eph. 1:18-23] we see that Christ is made the head of the church and there is no other head but Christ.  His power and authority is distributed from heaven to His members by the Holy Spirit that is given to us.  This is the reason that one of the attributes of the church is “spirituality” or invisibility, for the things of the Spirit lie hidden to the eye of the flesh.  Of course, Rome does not distinguish between the visible and invisible church, because they are motivated by super-cessionism, the idea that Rome is the continuation of fleshly Israel, the visibilization of the Kingdom of God.  The result is the externalism that dominated Israel and was so strongly condemned by our Lord [Luke 11:39 etc.].


Christ, the Messiah, our head, has but one body, the Church.  He is complete only when the fullness of his body is completed through the mighty work of the Holy Spirit in the world. [See Calvin, Commentaries, in loc.]   In order to complete His body, the church, all power is given to Him in heaven and in earth, and all things are put under His feet that the great work of the church might be completed.  This working of the Holy Spirit in the world is the result of His triumph over sin and death and hell, and His ascension into Glory to the right hand of the Father.


The Acts of the Apostles sets forth the working of this mighty power in the church.  We should keep in mind the figure used here: Christ is the head, the church is His body, His body is being completed by the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, so that Christ might be complete in His body, that no part be missing in the last day.  [Calvin]


1.    Acts 1:4-8. And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” The church would be the work of the Holy Spirit, which was the meaning of their baptism.  Not circumcision which emphasized a natural seed, but Christ who begets His people by an incorruptible seed, by the Word of God which lives and abides forever, according to 1 Peter [see below]


2.    Acts 2:14-21.   There were assembled in the upper room in Jerusalem 120 person, both men and women. [1:13-15]. If they came in families the fact is not noted.  The Holy Spirit came upon all in fulfillment of Joel:  They all spoke with tongues.  Women were there because the prophecy of Joel is said to be fulfilled, that the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon God’s servants and His handmaidens, and that all would prophecy: sons and daughters, young and old.  Sons and daughters were there, but we don’t know if babies or small children were.  It is foolish to speculate on such things, I think.  I also suspect that there were parts and pieces of families there, for Jesus said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword—that a man’s enemies would be of his own household.  [John 10:34-36]


This was the inauguration of the church, and it came upon the individuals assembled: not just the apostles, but upon every single believer. Of course, these special gifts did not continue in the church but the very presence of them at the founding of the church seems to say a great deal.  Both men and women prophesied in church, as is also indicated in 1Cor.14 and 1Cor. 11. When the special gift ended Paul would forbid women to speak in this context. 


With the end of the special gift, the general office of believer would not qualify even every man to speak in worship.  Preaching and teaching are restricted to the male, clearly, but reserved to those appointed and called of God, recognized by the church by the laying on of hands.  It is a fearful thing for someone—man or woman--to usurp the ministry of the word without the call of God and the recognition of the church.  Women and most men are to keep silence in worship, which is the practice in faithful Reformed churches today.  Clearly, the leaders are chosen by God, and the church is to recognize and affirm God’s choice.  It is also a fearful thing when God removes the church’s lamp and the light goes out in his temple because there are no faithful ministers or elders. No congregational election can make true what God has not made true.   If they choose a poltroon to be an elder, he is just a poltroon with an office.  The office is bigger than the man, and God may use him in spite of his character [John 11:15], but we must not tempt the Lord.


At Pentecost, Peter defines what the result of the pouring out of the Spirit would be: 


“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.   For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Ac 2:38-39) 


Just as Jesus said in John 10, the good shepherd would lead his sheep out of Israel one by one, add to them his sheep not of that fold, and there would be a new fold.  The sheep would be known not by their identification with the old folds, but by their response to the voice of the Shepherd.  Tribalism would be finished of all sorts: Roman, Jewish, Dutch, French, English, German, Scottish, etc., although clearly families would be included, if they continued in the faith.  If they did not continue in the faith the families would not be blessed.  The blessing was the true inheritance of the saints.  Abraham’s blessing is the reception of the Spirit by faith [Gal. 3:19].


There was also a business meeting of the church at its very founding, the only business that we know was the choosing of an apostle to take the place of Judas who had died under the wrath of God.  We commented on this above.


3.    After Peter’s sermon 3000 were added to the church, by the direct power of the Holy Spirit in response to the preaching of Peter. Acts 2:42ff reports that they continued in fellowship and in the Apostles’ doctrine.  They had all things in common and many sold their goods and presented them to the Apostles. “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.  And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Ac 2:44-47) 


There was a great increase of the people and not one baby is reported being delivered among them, but it is certain that babies were baptized because of the promise that was to them and their children. They were denominated “believers.” There were woman among them, among whom was Sapphira, as we see in chapter five.  The goods were divided to “all men,” but men must have included women, for the Grecian widows would later complain of neglect, for they had a right to be treated equally.  These new believers were “added” to the church which had its beginning in the 120 men and women in the upper room in Jerusalem.  They were those who had been “called out” by the gospel and the power of Christ’s resurrection.  All were included under the various names, “believers,” “whole multitude,”  “multitude.” Even the phrase “men and brethren” a least some of the time must refer to the whole multitude, both men and women, if we are not to strain reason beyond measure  [Acts 2:14, 29 with 2:41-47 with Acts 6:1 and such.] 


If the multitude included both men and women, then addresses to the multitude that begin “men and brethren” must include the women, unless you think that the speakers were not addressing “all believers” in the sense of Acts 5:14, both men and women.  These were “added to the Lord,” to the whole multitude, for women were also “in the Lord.”  If these expressions can be restricted to men only, then it is possible to make words say anything we wish.  We ought not to exegete this way, and young ministers must learn better methods.  We may think we have found the fish we seek, but it will prove elusive.


In addition, Acts 5:13 says that “no man durst join himself to them.”  Does this mean, then, that only women were joining the church? But verse 14 says that the believers were added, both men and women.  So verse 13 “men” must be a general term which means “person” if words are to mean anything.  “Man” doesn’t always mean “male.”


4.    Acts 5:1-10.   Both Ananias and Sapphira were slain by God for their sin of lying to the Holy Ghost.  Their punishment was certain, swift, individual, directly from God.  Women ought to be very careful how they participate in the sins of their husbands and the rebellions of their husbands, even in the church, and no man has a right to compel his wife to anything that would involve her in failing to take responsibility for her own soul and her own moral and spiritual life.  Some things cannot be delegated to another, and personal responsibility to seek the Lord, know the Scripture, and obey is certainly not something that can be delegated to husband, father, elder, minister, bishop, or pope, or the Reformation was a bunch of foolishness.  Every believer partakes of Christ’s anointing and is engaged in the work of prophet, priest, and king [HC 32].


The only Mediator between God and man [generic term in the sense of Genesis 1:27:  “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.”] is the Lord Jesus Christ.  The male must not assume more than is given to him.  It is also interesting that both Ananias and Sapphira came in separately to church—three hours apart—and both told the same lie and received the same punishment.


The best guarantee that a man can have for a happy and contented marriage is a woman who is closely connected to the Lord Jesus, her true Lord.  She walks by faith, trusts in God, does her duty, and is filled with love, joy, peace, long-suffering, etc.  Against such there is no law, and her husband will have no need of spoil, for he is rich indeed.  These things cannot be commanded, for they are not the fruit of the flesh, but the fruit of a true and living connection to Christ by His Spirit.  It is as unnatural for a woman to be a godly wife as it is unnatural for a man to be a godly husband.  Both must be born of the Spirit and walk in the Spirit to fulfill the roles for which they were created.


Sapphira couldn’t plead that she just did what her husband said.  Come to think of it, she didn’t have a chance to do so; her punishment came swiftly and sternly and she was dead before she could think up an excuse.  


This does not mean that a principle of male authority is not real and taught by faithful ministers, but it also must be noted that it must not be given an absolute quality that relieves the woman of responsibility for her own soul.  The things of this earth, whatever they are, are subordinate to the things in heaven, and no relationship should be made absolute, in order to explain everything by it.  For instance, it is true that God is our Father in heaven; but this doesn’t mean that He is not also our Judge and also our Shepherd.  None of these ideas can be made absolute.


The fact that every confirmed and knowledgeable Christian partakes of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper is a continuing reminder of our own individual connection to Christ and our own individual responsibility to grow in the knowledge and understanding of our Lord.


This incident sets forth another principle of the church: each individual Christian is responsible directly to the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit for his behavior.  There is only one head, and that is Christ.  Wives cannot blame their husbands, children their parents, subjects their kings and governors, for each of us must give an account of ourselves before the Lord.


This principle of individual responsibility was predicted as being a characteristic of the New Covenant:


“In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.  Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31:29-33)


This is also reiterated by John:  “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” (1Jo 2:27)  Of course, this principle is not to be made absolute, either, as if God had not appointed teachers and ministers for his church, but it does mean that those in authority are not dealing with a blank slate, but with people who have the Holy Spirit to teach them, the Lord Jesus as a Mediator, and a Heavenly Father to guard and protect them.


It also means that church members are not like baby robins with their mouths open to swallow everything that mama gives them.  They are required to judge the things that are said, even that said by Paul himself [1Cor. 10:15 and Galatians 1]. In the first passage cited Paul is calling them to recognize for themselves that Scripture forbids idolatry; in the second they were to judge by that which had already been preached to them.  But they were to decide as people who had brains.


As we saw above, every believer has authority directly from the Lord Himself to be a prophet, priest, and king before Him, as our catechism confesses:  HC 32.  This is what it means to be a Christian, so every Christian to be faithful to the Lord must exercise this authority within the communion and discipline of the faith.  Both men and women find this great freedom, not apart from authority, but under authority.


5.    After the death of Ananias and Sapphira there was another growth spurt in the church. “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” (Ac 5:14)  This was the work of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the apostles. Acts 5:42.  These multitudes were added to the whole multitude.


6.    Acts 6.  Because of the great growth of the church, tension arose over the distribution of the daily provisions.  Deacons were chosen:  the requirement:  “men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”  This was told to “the multitude” and there is no exegetical reason on the earth--particularly in Acts--to assume that this multitude was a multitude of men and not the same multitude that began with the 120 and was swelled by the events recounted.  In fact, verse 5 indicates that the choice of the seven was made by the “whole multitude.” 


We do not do exegesis to find something that isn’t there in order to combat evils in the world.  The bad exegesis will come back to bite us like an ungrateful pet.  We can assume that the “whole multitude” was organized after Jewish traditions and customs, but we better admit our assumption is without foundation unless we find our basis in some unitary view of the covenant that mixes Moses with Christ, a view that was unanimously rejected by the RCUS as being out of accord with the Three Forms of Unity.  Unless you believe that the new wine was put into old bottles, then the elect of the New Covenant are not under the same order as the elect of the Old Covenant.  We are Christians and not Jews.  We worship on Sunday and eat ham at Easter.  We eat and drink the Lord’s Supper and do not observe the Passover [I hope].  We are baptized into Christ and not circumcised unto Moses.


The deacons were not chosen because they were heads of family—the only connection that mattered was their connection to the Lord Jesus who had poured out His Spirit upon them.  There was no age requirement, no marriage requirement—just that they be honest and faithful and filled with the Holy Ghost.  I will not attempt in this paper to define what “filled with the Holy Ghost” means.  It doesn’t mean they talked gibberish, but were filled with faith, hope, and charity, at the very least.


This is the end of Part 2 of the examination of the Position Papers.   Part 3 will continue exposition of Acts in terms of the work of the Spirit in organizing and defining the nature of the Church.


C. W. Powell, Trinity Covenant RCUS, Colorado Springs