Now and Zens [1]

My good friend and brother in Christ johnMark has linked me to a somewhat, um, interesting post at Wade Burleson’s blog – and before someone starts speculating due to my silence, I also consider Pastor Burleson a brother in Christ – perhaps more so because he is a messenger to the wayward SBC, and he’s an Okie, which is its own spiritual gift. That link is here.

The essay Pastor Burleson provides is from Jon Zens, about whom I admittedly know nothing. This paper would be my first occasion to read anything by Pastor Zens, and I’m sure we’ll both be sorry for that.

If you want to get the full force of the paper, go read it. I have excerpted it here to make a few comments. I may come back to it because it has a lot to consider.

The purpose of 1 Timothy is stated by Paul in 1:3-4 – “As I urged you upon my departure to Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain persons to neither teach differently, nor to pay attention to myths and unending genealogies, which stir up questions rather than furthering the stewardship of God in faith.” “The key to understanding the letter,” Gordon Fee notes, “lies in taking seriously that Paul’s stated reason in 1:3 for leaving Timothy in Ephesus is the real one; namely, that he has been left there to combat some false teachers, whose asceticism and speculative nonsense based on the law are engendering strife, causing many to capitulate to the false teaching” (Gospel & Spirit, p.54).

1 Timothy is not a church manual for a pastor. It is a mandate for an apostolic assistant to deal with serious issues involving false teaching in Ephesus. Unfortunately, some women had become involved in this problem.
Well, who can deny what is said in the first paragraph – that Paul’s own words in 1Tim 1 set the context and scope of the letter for the reader? I would think that only a rather, um, inexperienced reader would try to raise a hand against this statement in order to say, “that’s simply false”.

The problem is this second paragraph, particularly the first sentence. What Pastor Zens is suggesting here is that the 1st letter to Timothy is written only to Timothy and only for the occasion in which Paul wrote to Timothy. Somehow, the idea that Scripture, being God-breathed, and being useful for many things (cf. Ps 119; Deu 6) in a broader context than the occasion in which it was written has been overlooked – and I choose that word carefully because Pastor Zens is, after all, a pastor.

This sentence – indeed, the weight of the paper – is balanced on a view of the letters to Timothy Pastor Zens summaries in this way:
Before coming to our passage in 1 Timothy, it is vital to note that the tradition of designating 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus as “Pastoral Epistles” is very misleading. One writer calls Timothy a “young pastor” (Kuske). Timothy and Titus were not resident pastors/elders. They were itinerant apostolic assistants. Paul at one point tells Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim.4:5). In these three letters Paul gave his co-workers instructions regarding issues and problems faced by the assemblies they moved among and assisted.
The underscored distinction, above (my emphasis), is a hair-fine distinction at best. To use that distinction as the justification to dismiss the completely conventional and non-controversial view that Paul wrote to Timothy in order to instruct him on “godly leadership in the face of internal opposition” (Wallace) is over-reaching; it attempts too much. In that, the distinction between “pastor” and “itinerant apostolic assistants” is what, really? In the case of the former, I guess it means he stayed there forever, while the latter meant he stayed for a while and then, when the church had a decent set of elders, he moved on to another assignment. The problem is that if the latter is the case, aren’t the “itinerant apostolic assistants” acting in the place of pastors and elders until such people (not to poison the well) can be established?

There’s no question that the letters to Timothy and Titus are not complete "pastoral handbooks". They clearly lack a lot of the theological girth Romans, Hebrews, and even the 4 Gospels provide to the pastor or elder. But of course: that’s why 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 competent, equipped for every good work. In the same way it would be odd to say that Romans is written only to address a specific need for the church in Rome as perceived by Paul (and therefore cannot be applied to the whole church), it is equally odd to say that 1 Tim ought to be so narrowly construed that our ability to use it to gain an understanding of pastoral ministry and ecclesiology is significantly impaired.

What is more troubling is the speculation – the direction of the speculation – Pastor Zens uses to set up the context of Paul’s exhortations to Timothy. When he says, “Unfortunately, some women had become involved in this problem,” Pastor Zens has presented us with a conclusion which we have to question. Is the correct implication of the controversy which Timothy is in Ephesus to confront/oppose that “some women have become involved” or that this teaching has somehow obfuscated the roles of men and women in the church, and that Timothy must set that right as well?

See: if Pastor Zens is right, then Paul’s warnings to Timothy about how women should or should not act are about some particular women who are false teachers and not about women in general. In fact, Pastor Zens banks on this narrow-band idea. But if the problem is farther-reaching, and the errors are causing order in the church to be undermined, which is a rather important issue for Paul (cf. 1 Cor 14), this essay falls far short of the mark at which it was aimed.

At this point, Pastor Zens devotes a great deal of time to 1 Tim 2:11-15, and sets up 1 Tim 2:1-10 for “immediate context”. The objection I would point out here is that the context of 1 Tim 2 is the groundwork Paul has laid in 1 Tim 1 – which Pastor Zens has hardly addressed at all.

In 1 Tim 1, Paul establishes his preeminent concern to Timothy clearly:

    This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
Now, before we get to Hymenaeus and Alexander, what is Paul talking about when he says, “this charge”? He means this, which immediately precedes that phrase:
    Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

    I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul’s charge to Timothy – and you must read this carefully so you can use it the way Paul intended to use it – is that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully; that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient. That is, the function of the law is to expose and deal with those who are disobedient.

Paul’s charge to Timothy – as it was to the Corinthians, btw, in case we think this is some kind of innovative point by Paul – is to rebuke the disobedient by means of the law of God, and to this end raise up godly leaders to further that task. Thus if Paul is making a specific application to Timothy, he is making it as a specific application of a general principle which is applicable to the church today, and for the pastor today.

With that, this post has gone long on me, and I want to address some of the specific reasoning Pastor Zens has provided to us. Stay tuned for future developments.