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No such thing as secondary!

When it comes to the Bible, is there actually such thing as secondary issues? I don't think so. Rick Warren has recently said that we need to stop 'bickering' over secondary issues (in context he means ordaining women as pastors - something he has done recently - amongst other things).

I don't like this phrase. I don't like it because I don't like the attitude towards God's word that it permits in people - even the most well-meaning of whom have hearts that are deceitful and wicked!

Let's take the ordination of women issue for instance. Why would this be called a 'secondary issue'? Well, being a 'secondary issue' having knowledge of or an opinion about it does not affect one's ability to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and thus be saved. Indeed, you can even be wrong about this particular issue in practise and still be saved. Yes, if you genuinely, sincerely, with all conviction and true devotion to Christ and submission to what the Bible says, and you think it's OK for women to be ordained, then I don't believe that prohibits you from being forgiven from your sins. And if that's the case, then you may well say with Rick Warren: why 'bicker' about it?

Well, like I said, it cultivates an unhealthy attitude toward and a distinct lack of reverence for the word of God. Now, let's take a verse that would be used in this particular argument (amongst many) 1 Timothy 2:12 - "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet".

Paul says something here. To my mind, the instruction is clear. I don't think Paul is mincing his words, I think this is Paul at his most concise. Now, we have three options as far as I can tell. 1) we agree with the verse and apply it simply by only ordaining men in the church. 2) we read the words in their plain meaning but when we read them it causes tension in us because they (I could understand that they might) sound harsh, countercultural, and may well be a little confusing especially if we're new to the faith or lack a very broad and deep understanding of the whole Bible and we find them a hard word from God. Yet despite our visceral reactions, out of reverence for God and his word, we dare not breach the letter of the law - the very words before us and we (as I often tell people we should) give God the benefit of the doubt and agree only to ordain men in the church. Or, option 3) we call it secondary issue, we decide that the meaning isn't clear and cloak our rebellion in a cloud of ambiguity about the scriptures and we think that perhaps it's OK to ordain women after all.

Now, it's true that some matters the Bible raises for us are more important in an ultimate sense. The thief on the cross whom Jesus invited into paradise certainly wasn't worrying about the ordination of women as priests in the temple at that particular moment in time and Jesus certainly didn't care for his opinion on the matter at that moment either. But we must be careful with our language and the implications of it. To say the Bible gives priority to the things it wants us to respond to is one thing, to say that the God-breathed, Spirit inspired, doubled-eged word of God that was forged over millennia often through the hardships of faithful men of God has 'secondary issues' is another. When we treat certain aspects of the Bible's teaching as secondary, we are disingenuous to our Lord who gave us such a special revelation. One issue might be more impactful on our eternity than another, but we should be damned to treat the other issues we encounter with contempt by relegating them to 'secondary'. Nowhere in the Bible does it hint that we should categorise scripture into order of importance. And quite frankly, I will ‘bicker’ about it. Well, maybe not bicker, but I will strongly content! Very strongly. Because when you refuse to ‘bicker’ or contend, what you are saying is that you don’t care if people get the Bible wrong. And as a principle, that is an appaulign attitude, which, ironically, would give me cause for concern about your attitude to the whole of it, including the ‘primary’ issues. If you don’t take Paul’s teaching on church eldership and preaching and gifts seriously, I question how seriously you take other parts of it, like the cross, for instance. And let’s not get started on creation.

The bible is hard, and it is difficult at times and unclear at a few points and we do have to grapple with it. But we must never give up on it or concede to ignorance. We don’t like the idea that the church is split in so many different ways, do we? Yet better to be split by pure conviction and genuine love for the scriptures than to have one big fat fluffy marshmallow of a church that doesn’t care much for the Bible and allows people to do with it what they please! Heresy aside, of course.

1Timothy again: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”.

As if the practical implications of the entire scripture weren’t enough, consider Luke 24:

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

This isn’t a book about doing, it’s a book about knowing. Knowing God himself. Every command reflects something of the character of God and to relegate any part of it to ‘secondary’ is to relegate some aspect of the character and person of God which it reflects to secondary. As if to say, I love God’saving grace but don’t care so much for his misogyny. Which, let’s be honest here, when we ignore Paul in 1 Timothy it’s basically masking the fact that we think God is a misogynist. So to call something about the Bible ‘secondary’ is to reveal a primary issue in your own heart.

Don’t treat the Bible with contempt. Humble yourself before it and don’t call any aspect of it secondary!


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