It is said that God is God of order. Thus it should come as no surprise that scripture has much to say about submission. God laments that Israel would not submit to Him many times, and no doubt laments still about all those who are called by His name but will not obey Him.
So what exactly is submission according to the Bible? I start by saying what it is not: that even though one of the definitions of submit is closer to subjugate or subordinate, that God is ultimately a deep respecter of the individual will. Thus, we see more often than not, when someone in scripture says to ‘submit yourself‘ it becomes clear that it is totally a matter of one’s individual choice to do so.
Also, while God is of order, He is the God who is love, hence His desire for our self-submission. Furthermore, based upon His teaching of order, that being the first shall be last and the last first, submission is more greatly to be desired than is leading in His kingdom, but scripture also indicates that at some point we shall rule and reign with Him.
Nowhere is this mingling of both ordering by leading and submitting more apparent, but also more confusing than in the marriage covenant. Eph. 5 is one of several chapters in the Bible which speaks of this and is frequently over-used and even abused regarding how marriage should be ordered. Some men will go so far as to insist, sometimes forcefully, or overbearingly in verbal assault, that their wives submit in all things. Considering that God does not demand that of us to the point of force, I strongly advise against this sort of arrangement for it absolutely is not loving and I believe it breaks the very concept of, ‘submit yourself’ and is absolutely not the picture of Christ dying for the Church.
Furthermore, while it may be strictly true that Christ did not submit himself to the church (referring to Eph 5:24), He did perform acts of sacrificial service that look suspiciously like submission. Indeed, as we look closely at all that Ephesians 5 has to say about both submission and sacrificial love. Interestingly, the verse leading into the section about marital submission and sacrifice leads with ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ -Eph 5:21.
So in the concept of order, how can we submit to one another?
I believe it is thus: we are humans, but we each have different experiences as we grow up. Thus we all have different strengths and weaknesses and should honor one another for each strength by submitting to each other regarding those strengths. If a man has been trained to cook and likes to do so, a woman who also likes to cook but has not been trained should submit to that man’s expert ability. Conversely, a woman who has a PhD in finances has expertise in handling the household bills and her husband should respectfully submit to her in this area.
But regarding the rest of Eph 5, where generally the wives are being expected, perhaps even ordered to submit to her husband, this looks to be on the order of a spiritual level based on the reference to Christ being the head of the church.
But what of women who have no husband but are expected to lead their children, or a woman whose husband either never came to Christ, or has become functionally disabled or apostate? There do not seem to be specified allowances for these situations, yet our common sense says, ‘no doubt God’s grace is enough’.
So here is the thing. If God’s grace is enough in these situations just mentioned, is it new law that if a man and woman decide together that the husband’s leadership is not what is best for the family then God is displeased with such an arrangement? In other-words, have we made new Law out of what was intended as general guidance in a time when men were generally better educated then women? Are we by doing so, heaping rules upon the ecclesia akin to those the Pharisees heaped on the first century children of Israel? How does it glorify God to have women generally lumped into a submissive position if they are truly qualified, capable and willing to be leading, whether in the Church or in the home? Are we truly seeking to bring heaven to earth by trying to strictly enforce a strict program of submission that God doesn’t truly intend, but was what was needed for a specific time and now no longer applies?
Which reminds me, what does Jesus mean when he asks us to pray God’s will on earth as it is in Heaven? We know from Jesus’ words that there is no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven. Thus we know that when the NT says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, that he was starting to comprehend the totality of the ideal in heaven that we call equality, should we be praying that God’s sense of equality should be done here on earth? In which case, we should be searching out what scripture tells us regarding God being no respecter of persons and how much he hates unequal weights and measures and how he feels about injustice… and what exactly does He consider to be injustice regarding how men and women treat each other.
Most assuredly, these are weighty matters that cannot simply be summed up using one verse, or even one chapter, but require being plugged into the mind of Christ on a level that most of us are not really accustomed to doing. That being said, regarding submission, let us not forget that a great place to start, as Paul did, is with Eph 5:21, ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ since it hints both at equality as well as at deeply contemplating the nature of love and honoring each other. Thus, let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds as we desire not to rule over one another but to serve and submit gladly and lovingly to each other!
I have to say, I am not in a bad mood right now, so hopefully I can contain my angst enough to get my thoughts clearly on paper.
I am angry at the past leadership of the church for setting forth a theology that mocks God’s goodness in His creation as well as His goodness in His grace. What theology is this you might ask? It is the theology based upon two repugnant assumptions: Women, because of Eve are either easily deceived (flaw in God’s creation) or usurpers (cause of the fall of Adam).
How does this mock God? It mocks Him by saying that He created Women woefully flawed to the point that He supposedly had to lock her into a position of subservience, ‘aka submission to all male authority’ for all time. Never mind what He did on the cross that redeems us all, it wasn’t enough to keep women from usurping male authority or being easily deceived. Frankly we are humans and we are all easily deceived, so this one is just as weak an argument as any especially considering the logical follow-through as to why the daughters of Eve are supposed to remain in submission: Sons of Adam should know better. And isn’t it part of the curse against Eve that God ordained women would constantly covet man’s power? Seriously? Where does the ‘man’s power’, er, excuse me… authority, come from anyway? Did God tell Adam and Eve, ‘Now dear ones, please understand, Adam was made first, therefore Eve, you are in submission to him in all things. OK?’ No, God did not. The ONLY rule God set forth prior to the fall was that they absolutely NOT eat of ONE tree. An entire garden to choose from and the both find themselves staring at what is forbidden. The fall had already begun the moment they paused there. The fall continued as Adam did not remind Eve in that moment that they should go somewhere else. The fall continued further when neither one of them rebuked the evil one for mocking God and His one rule.
The fall had nothing to do with Eve usurping Adam’s authority. Eve was totally Adam’s equal. The Hebrew words, Helper Meet literally describe a word-picture of two equal beings face-to-face. God called them, ‘one flesh’. There wasn’t even a hidden message in how God talked with them. Yes, God addressed Adam first, but God did directly address Eve. He did not go through Adam as in a priest. Go ahead, read Genesis 2&3. It’s all there, no matter the version, though you will have to check an interlinear to see the Hebrew meaning of help meet, or the Septuagint which translates Helper comparable.
So in this bad theology where one might take meaning that men are somehow superior to women in that we somehow are less frequently deceived or usurpers of authority such that women must be ‘put in their place’ for all eternity, do we suppose that God is the one who set this up? Let us look at the wording of the curse in Gen 3. To the serpent God said,
“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
It is absolutely clear what God is declaring as His action and proclamation toward the adversary.
But to Eve He said,
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be [e]for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”
The first line is clearly God’s doing. Then the remaining three lines are simply statements of what will be. Leaving us to wonder, was this God’s intent, His doing? Or was this simply God saying, this is somehow the result of what happened. I am not doing this to you. Either one can fit. Thus it is not clear in the slightest whether God was forevermore putting Eve and all of her daughters in a place of submission. Nothing in all of the Old Testament clarifies this question. Indeed, Numbers 30 where we see that Fathers have veto power of oaths their unmarried daughters take as do husbands is the only hint at this. But it is further muddied by the fact that if there are women who have neither husband nor father, no one had veto power over her oaths. Widows, therefore, are fully autonomous according to the OT Law. There is no accommodation saying a brother or brother-in-law must take up the mantle of authority over her. Adding to this a Prophetess/Judge named Deborah in Judges 4,5 who had no one in authority over her as she administered these God-given duties.
Thus we get to the matter of Creation and Grace. Both male and females fell from the perfect state at the same time. Adam is clearly blamed for this throughout the NT by the same guy who arguably wrote 1 Tim 2. So why has much of history held women so responsible for the fall that they cannot even hold a position of teaching a Bible study with men present? It is not as clear as some would say and for more of that you can see my reasons for saying so here. But truly, as I have mentioned before, it is based upon two terribly misogynistic ideas that have been carefully couched in ‘holy speak’: women are easily deceived and inclined to be usurpers. The first I have shown to be weak, the second is even weaker. Eve has not shown up as a usurper in Genesis 3, at most she is curious and falls prey to the oily words of a good sales-man… er snake. But Adam has clearly not taken up a mantle of authority and simply allows the entire thing to go down without saying a word either to the snake, or to Eve. At best, in a complementarian view, we should be placing the blame squarely on Adam’s shoulders and by extension the sons of Adam and telling all men to not give into their laziness and apathy. That leadership is, therefore, man’s mantle to take up since Adam failed so miserably. But failing that, women should not be left to wonder which way to go if a man does not lead. In a complementarian society that is both loving and fair, the women should never be told to avoid stepping into a leadership role that needs to be filled when there is no man to take it up.
But I will take this one step further because there is no clearly defined passage that says women who do so are outside of God’s will. As such, there is not any valid, Godly reason for a governing body of a church to see a women with appropriate leadership qualities, well trained and suitable to teach yet avoid placing her in that position. It is just not there. Indeed, in Romans we see Paul greeting a female deaconess (Phoebe Romans 16:1) and many other women in leadership roles, yet we misrepresent him as saying in 1 Tim 3:12 that only married men can be a deacon. I could go on since there are so many women who Paul recognizes and then seems to later define women or even single men (except himself? Really?) out of positions of authority. But all we really need to recognize is that we have made a mistake and overly exegeticized (probably not a word, but I’m sure you get my meaning) certain things in accordance with some men’s pre-suppositions (giving them too much credit? Possibly).
It is past time we give up these notions that God meant what he didn’t clearly say, concepts that break both his creative goodness and his glorious satan-works-defeating grace, and therefore we must over-emphasize on his behalf and look the other way when someone brings up the fallacy of our too-long-held dogmatic belief in male superiority couched in holy-speak. I am done.
October kicked off a month of deep division in the body of Christ when John MacArthur told Beth Moore to ‘Go Home’ in essence an unkind way to tell her to quit teaching. Both of these teachers have wonderful insights into the scriptures and I have held them both in deep respect for many years. Granted, the church has long held that women should not be ‘in the pulpit’, aka, teaching men, but in light of how many women are being called to preach and ordained by various denominations, it is high time to set this straight so the body of Christ may no longer be divided on this issue.
One of the primary scriptures the Complementarian viewpoint is based upon is found in 1 Tim 2 where Paul, the 14th Apostle of the early church and author of the majority of the New Testament writes, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.“ (NASB)
Taken by itself this might seem to suggest that Paul’s opinion ‘I do not allow’ is that of not wanting all women to remain totally silent, and especially whenever a man is present. But looking at the beginning of the first epistle, or letter to Timothy, leader of the church at Ephesus, we can see that Paul is addressing error in that church as coming from select individuals that he did not name, “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine,…” NKJV Note the word ‘some’ being generic. Certain translations put ‘men’ in the place of ‘some’ but considering later context directs Timothy regarding, ‘a woman’, some is a better translation. This is especially apparent when comparing 1 Tim 2:9,10 which addresses ‘women’ and how they should not wear gaudy clothing, but then Paul deliberately shifts to several very singular uses of ‘woman’ in the next two verses as quoted above. Then Paul uses a verse taken from Gen. 3 to illustrate his point, but again it is a singular woman, Eve, who was deceived. Thus if we are to use this illustration to include all women when Paul is clearly not including all women, then we are inferring something that Paul may not have been inferring. Thus we need to look at other scriptures to ascertain which is true.
Let us then look at 1 Cor 11:5 which addresses every woman who prays or prophesies needing to cover their heads. Of course we look at the head covering part as a probable issue for addressing and certainly has been addressed to great detail in decades past, but the first part gets over-looked… women can prophesy or pray if that is their gifting since 1 Cor 11-14 address the ordering of service and giftings of the body of Christ as pertains to edifying one another. Furthermore, we see in Acts that Priscilla and Aquila were a husband and wife team who corrected Apollos when he was in error about baptism. Paul never is seen correcting Priscilla for being involved in that moment, thus we see that we likely have a bad understanding of ‘women being silent or having a teaching or correction with a man in every moment. If we are taking a momentary correction intended to be for one woman who needs to have remedial learning and applying it to the body corporate, then we are the ones in doctrinal error.
But what about 1 Tim 3 where Paul is addressing who should be an ‘Overseer’ or Elder, sometimes referring to part of the role of Pastor? In general, Paul says an overseer must be ‘above reproach’. But then he specifies that married men must be the husband of but one wife. But is he saying that an overseer or elder or pastor can only be a married man? Here is why I do not think so. Since Paul, himself, tells us that he remained single and since Paul was an overseer of many churches, pastors, and elders, we can see that he held a position that was an overseer of overseers. Granted his office was ‘Apostle’ which means, ‘one who is sent’, it cannot be avoided that he held a high role as an overseer. Thus if we are to be strictly adherent to the law of what Paul is saying, then Paul, himself is disqualified as a single man. It is the narrowest of views that would suggest that an overseer must be a married man, and yet we are also taking a narrow view of Paul’s words here to exclude either single or married women simply because he does not mention them in his example of being upright.
So what is the root reason that many men, indeed many women as well, in the church believe that women are not to hold authority or teach men? Is it a law that Moses expounded in the Pentateuch? Is it something Jesus said when he walked among us? Actually, no; it is not either one. Rather it boils down to one scripture being used to interpret Genesis 3 where those who think that Eve’s deception at the tree of knowledge should be applied to all women. Again going to 1 Tim 2 vv 13-14, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Remembering that v 12 likely was addressing a woman in error that needed remediation, this verse is Paul bringing to remembrance what harm deception can cause. Also remember that Paul in other places places the fall of man squarely on Adam’s shoulders. This is because Adam was with Eve as the serpent was deceiving her and Adam remained quiet and even accepted the fruit and partook of it himself. She did not bring it to him after her error. He did not happen upon her as she was in the act. He was with her the entire time. So regardless of the fact that Eve fell into sin due to her deception; Adam let her do it while being entirely not deceived. Adam failed to protect. Adam failed to put the serpent on notice that he was not welcome. Adam failed on so many levels in this instance that while eve was not blameless, she was not the one to whom ultimate blame is to fall. Furthermore, Adam doubled down when God walked in a moment later and threw her under the bus. So why should Paul limit all of Eve’s progeny from teaching the sons of Adam who failed far more utterly than Eve did. And finally, why is the curse of Genesis 3 even still in play when the work of Christ on the cross removes the burden of ‘High Priest’ from men but also redeemed all humans who accept His work? Indeed Romans leads us to understand how far-reaching Christ’s deliverance from dead works truly is! The curse of original sin is demolished on the cross with the blood of Jesus except for women simply being the wrong gender? There is no exegetical sense in light of the overarching scriptural theme of salvation and love to hold the daughters of Eve in such a place. Thus we see that the complementarian position is on sinking sand rather than a firm foundation as they continually assert.
Yet those who would hold women guilt-free of Eve’s deception are told they are interpreting scripture doing mental gymnastics for finding many loopholes to their statement, ‘Paul made it crystal clear!’ Let the egalitarian view become the new Christian norm that the good news of salvation not be tainted by holding women under the curse from which Jesus delivered all men and women.
My earliest memories include Sunday school and running around church buildings, yet my struggle with God and faith has been very real. Being raised in a Bible-believing church with large family of believers surrounding me and speaking words of scriptural wisdom does not mean instant relationship with the God of scripture.
In college my unique point of view was recognized through a psych test about my views of faith versus religion. My score in faith was quite high, whereas my score in the religion quadrant was quite low. My professor said she had never seen anyone with such diametrically opposed views in these areas. Thus it will be no surprise to learn that I love the people of the church of my youth but I no longer hold to certain beliefs of the church of my youth as I continually challenge teachings and explore different Christian sects, but my quest for truth did not end at the boundaries of my Christian faith.
At one point I remember probing the question: what if there were no God? It didn’t take too long to abandon that idea, however since despair loomed dark and ominous down that path. That said, I had to ask God what was true many times along my journey as a way to affirm both His existence and presence in my life.
There have been several occasions where He flooded me with profound and revelatory answer which has served to shape my present depth of faith as well as my theological position.
Two of these moments I will relate now since they were both early in this process as well as substantive in significance.
The first had to to with my crisis of belief regarding the role of God’s Holy Spirit today and centers around the scripture found untoward the end of 1 Cor 13. The teaching of my youth said that we no longer have tongues and prophecy since ‘the perfect’ that Paul mentions in 1 Cor 13:10 has come in the form of the canonized scripture. Still I could not deny that something real was happening in the Foursquare Church one of my co-workers had invited me to attend. So I asked God to reveal to me what the truth was. The answer came to me in an instant a few weeks later while I wasn’t even pondering the issue. I heard that still-small voice that Elijah mentioned ask me simply yet exceedingly clearly, ‘Do you see me face-to-face?’ I could only answer truly, ‘no, Lord. Though I seek your will constantly, I have never seen your face.’ The significance of that question was not lost on me because 1 Cor 13 is nearly wrote in my memory. He was referring to v 12 that is clearly in context with v 10 and which, as I answered to the negative (and none might truthfully answer since Paul penned these words) as seeing His face, clearly means that ‘the perfect’, our beloved Jesus at His second coming, has not come!
Thus, God still needs to work in His Church through tongues and prophecy!
The second most significant moment was similar in that I asked Him to reveal to me how He feels about abortion. I have to say, that I have not asked Him Vout His feelings since that moment since the deluge of sorrow God feels more immense than mere man can handle. Yet I learned something even in this moment that resounds to me to this day: it is not just about the abortions that God mourns! God mourns the disobedience of men and women who recklessly use each other. God mourns men who abuse women for the resultant emotional wreckage. God mourns the loss of innocence at all levels. God mourns His lost children seeking significance through feelings rather than His relationship through which abundant life is poured. God mourns a church that treats abortion as a political lever and fails to love young people in these moments of crisis.
The moment I asked God how He felt, I began to weep and wail for all of these and did so for a full 1/2 hour. It likely would have continued far longer and I would have learned more of what He mourns but that I was both spent and on a lunch period and had to try to get back to work. Silly me asking such big questions when under a time-constraint!
I would like to say that my life since that moment has been in perfect alignment with His desire for me, but thankfully He is so very gracious and it is His kindness that leads to repentance. Of course in the more-decades-than-I-care-to-admit I have far more stories about conversations with God, but that is good for now lest this blog become a book, and who really wants that?
So I conclude by saying that God’s interaction in my life is my firm foundation. I started my faith walk by exploring scripture and so I continue to do, but relationship trumps book knowledge. Thus, if you, dear reader have come here thinking to try God on for size, I can only recommend that faith comes from daring to ask God for relationship rather than looking for reason to believe in scripture alone.
It was a minute ago, as the saying goes… more like several decades ago really, I attended a play about the life of Jesus. It was a unique play where the audience and the players intermingled since we, the audience, were followers of Jesus as he ministered.
I vividly remember this one set where we sat on hay bales in a circle with Jesus in the center and several Pharisees around the perimeter listening as Jesus spoke. Suddenly, several children ran to Jesus interrupting him excitedly saying, “Jesus! Jesus! Play with us!” It was a cute and heartwarming moment as I remembered the scripture saying children loved to be near Him.
Jesus bent near them, beaming affectionately. “OK, what should we play?” The Pharisees began murmuring.
“Duck, duck Goose!” They yelled, jumping excitedly.
The very same moment my heart rebelled against the scene as being highly un-scriptural I heard the Pharisees scoff, “Duck, Duck Goose! How undignified! He’s no teacher of spiritual things!”
The Holy Spirit came along side me in that moment as I recognized my inner Pharisee and reminded me that He was there, ministering gently and that I need not be ashamed, only repent.
I would love to be able to say that I was instantly and completely delivered of my inner Pharisee in that moment, but the struggle is real and sanctification is a process.
Another moment around that time that boosted me away from Phariseeism came when I made the clear connection between Romans 1 and 2 and how easy it was to disassociate the two chapters as a Pharisee, but as a loving disciple of Christ I cannot ever do again since there is much in Romans 1 of which I needed to be cleaned, myself. Thus the second chapter prevents disciples of Christ from becoming the elder brother in the Prodigal Son parable.
“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” – Romans 2:1-4 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans2:1-4&version=NASB
Too often I had weaponized the 1st chapter against those who my pious heart had judged. Too often I stood on safety’s shore with my spiritual life-preserver in hand and used it as a hammer to drive home my unrighteousness in others.
Judgement is not mine, but the Lord’s… and He did not come to bring judgment, but salvation that leads to repentance.
Heaven help me to *never* be that pharisee I once was.
There, I did it. I asked the question. Have I committed sacrilege even asking these questions?
I think, if we are honest, we know that Paul was an apostle, not a law-giver. Yet do we treat certain things that he said as though they are part of the ‘new commandments’? Let me be clear- I am not trying to discredit the work that Paul did in spelling out so much that Christianity is today. Rather, I want to challenge our pre/mis-conceptions with bold-faced, unashamed love for my fellow man and women in the modern Christian church. So I ask the question: has Paul’s words become sacrosanct in an unhealthy way? Or put another way, have we limited our freedom in Christ simply because of a few words that likely are taken out of Historical context and thus lost their significance?
In order to answer these questions, let us take a look at a few things, both OT and NT that may help shed some light on this subject. First let us look at 1 Timothy 2:12 “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” NASB. One would think that such a simple statement stands alone without any contextual reference… and yet we would be remiss in our duty to God, Paul, and to each of our brothers and sisters in Christ if we do not look at context of History, near scriptural reference and overarching scripture. First, near scripture: 1 Tim 2, please read it when you get a chance. The first part of that chapter is a call to prayer, but starting in v. 9 he speaks of women and modesty… which mean either low skin exposure or low cost or both, but based on context is mostly leaning toward low cost. Then the next sentences can either be stand-alone direction, or can still be pertaining to the teaching he just gave. Allow me to rephrase his paragraph. Modesty is a hard lesson for women who want to dress their best for God in the worship, including gold in the hair, but please remind them to receive this teaching and not argue about it since godliness is not about our and finery but our humble service to others.
Honestly, it should not have just been about women. Men struggle with this as well, with Gold watches silk suits and cufflinks.
I recognize that the last part of the paragraph in 1 Tim 2 also points at women through Eve, which I will now address as the over-arching context. First, there were women in scripture who clearly had authority over men. I call one out of the OT and one out of the NT: Debora, the Judge, and Priscilla the teacher of Christ’s Baptism to Apollos. The first Paul would have known of as he was a Pharisee of Pharisees, the second he worked with both in tent making as well as missions, indeed in 2 Timothy he asks she and her husband be greeted, and indeed held the place of honor in his greeting since her name came first. SO if Paul indeed does not ‘suffer’ women to instruct men or allow them a place of authority over men, then what are we to do with his obvious oversight with regard to Priscilla, a fellow pioneer church starter and? Not to mention, she is not the only one. Then, regarding Eve being the one who was deceived, Paul in Romans lands the original sin squarely on Adam, not because he was deceived, but because he was there and did not stop Eve in her deception.
And finally, we have historical context. While this Epistle was to Timothy in Ephesus, Palestine was poor and the only women who were educated in Paul’s day were women in the Levitical order… which in doing my research for this blog I was surprised to discover that there were women who performed priestly duties which is why they were educated. But things were not much better in Ephesus. Indeed, most societies of Paul’s day were exceedingly patriarchal. Was this divinely inspired? I really do not think so any more than I think slavery was, even though God, through Moses the Original Law giver, set forth rules governing the proper treatment of slaves. IF Paul intended for 1 Tim 2:12 to stand alone, perhaps Paul was simply trying to acknowledge the struggle in society in that moment and simply reduce the potential for discord in that moment in time and not to make a policy that should stand the test of time. Indeed, looking at the over-all verbiage of ‘I do not suffer women to…’ it seems less like a directive from God and more of a hasty answer in the flesh to a complex problem that needed him to be there face to face to address in more detail.
Which brings me back to my question: Was Paul the New Covenant Law Giver?
Honestly? Do we even have to ask this question, let alone answer it? Yes, apparently we do, because we are still treating a one-off & thrice out-of-context scripture as though it is High Policy to be adhered to at all cost lest we displease God and Paul!
Frankly, it is time we are done treating women as second-class citizens in Christ’s body when Paul wasn’t even a law-giver, but a liberty elucidator. Let women lead as they are willing and able! It is long past time. They have earned it and do not deserve to be treated as less-than any longer.
It is with some consternation that I write this blog for I do not wish to come across as pointing fingers, nor accusing in any way. Yet I have had cause to consider this question on more than one occasion lately. This morning as I was leaving the Shelter at Orenco Station I had a conversation which revealed that others wonder this very thing as well.
The bedrolls were put away, breakfast was done as were the chores. The guests of the shelter were trickling out into the brisk, 27 degree weather to whatever tasks they had before them this day. Some of the guests have jobs and vehicles, so I was helping them scrape their windshields so they could be safe on the roads. One of these noticed my ‘Security in Christ’ hat. I will call her Brenda.
“I like your hat,” said Brenda.
“Thank you! Someday I will memorize the scripture that is on it,” I replied.
She asked which scripture.
I said, “Ephesians 1:13-14. It talks bout the security we have in God, being sealed with Him in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It reminds me that we are adopted and that we do not have to do things to earn our salvation, but that we do things for others out of our love for Him.”
Brenda’s reply was unexpected and was actually sobering, “Interesting that you say that. I know that when an atheist does something nice for me that they do it out of the kindness of their hearts. But I am never sure whether Christians are doing it out of guilt, or in an effort to earn salvation. I never know if they really care about me.”
There it was, standing between us like it had teeth and claws; the naked, ugly truth that our bad theology and the resulting jagged edges of our efforts to love our neighbor has earned us.
It was a deeply convicting moment as I pause to consider, “Do I really love my neighbor as I love myself?”
Do I give the homeless out of my excess and castoffs, or do I give to them of my favorite items (if I love them as I love myself, should I not give them things I would give myself?) Do I genuinely care about the least of these, the brethren of Jesus? If I choose to try to bless them, am I doing it from compunction (guilt), compulsion (duty), or am I doing it out of the goodness of my heart (love)? Do I really, truly and sincerely CARE about others? And have I truly given my heart over to God for a total makeover, that I can be as selflessly loving as Jesus was and is?
My conclusion is that I just might have more room to grow in this area. A LOT. Even though I have worked through bad theology, and have confronted my lazy and often careless heart, God still is working to sanctify me and set me apart for His greater purpose of loving my neighbor deeply, from the heart.
Would that all of us who have put on Christ were instantly mature and able to love our neighbors deeply, selflessly and without expectation of return, or fear of being wounded in our vulnerability. Heaven help us grow into the children that you purpose us to be, that Your loving Name will be glorified!
Such a dramatic and sobering thought. Some readers may be nodding their heads knowingly right now, while others may be thinking this author has lost his mind to even ask the question. Perhaps some are wondering why the question needs to be asked today.
It is becoming increasingly evident that forces are at work on both sides of the #blacklivesmatter and #JusticeOrElse that have the same stated purpose: to avenge wrongful deaths. Yet depending upon a particular point of view, the object of revenge looks very different. Ultimately both sides are now counting deaths. Both sides are demanding justice, and both sides are demanding to be heard… or else.
Or else what? Enter the Minister Louis Farrakhan and former correctional officer, Nathan Ener. The two are flip-sides of the same coin. In late July, Minister Farrakhan announced in a speech in a church in Florida that he was looking for 10,000 of the next million man march to be ready to die for the cause of #JusticeOrElse under the ancient principle of the Law of Retaliation that he says is in both the Q’ran and the Old Testament. But truly, Christ set down a new principle in Matt 5:38,39 by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” Then on Sept 1st in response to a shocking up-tick in murders of Law Enforcement officers, Nathan Ener essentially declared war on the Black Panthers for inciting protesters to kill police.
And let us also remember a page from US History 1963,
“In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr excerpt from ‘I Have a Dream’.
Only this time I have to say this to my brothers and sisters of America who are both pale and dark! Nathan Ener, stand down! Minister Farrakhan, Stand down from your rhetoric of retribution and revenge! If you love the people in your country, Stand Down! This violent language will produce a crop of thousands of innocent deaths of our brothers and sisters as it escalates out of control. Many who had nothing to do with anyone else’s demise will suffer the pain and anguish of these words you spew unless you start teaching as Dr King and Jesus Christ taught.
Yes, seek justice with all your passion and persistence. Pursue a righteous settlement to wrong-doing! Never give up in that endeavor! But in taking justice into our own hands we will descend into a very dark time in which the outcome is not certain for anyone alive today.
There is a saying today which says that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, yet in this moment I wonder if we are not already blinded by our unbridled passion.
Americans, it does not matter how much melanin is in anyone’s skin, we all bleed red and we all die too easily.
So, yes, #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter.
Let’s start a new one today, #MercyAndJusticeMatter, or how about #ForgivenessAndHumilityMatter, #DignityAndDisciplineMatter.
Who is with me in this quest to return our nation to civility? I refuse to believe it is too late if we work together, and if those of us who are inclined to pray do so humbly and sincerely. Let us seek to end this divisiveness today!
This week’s monumental decision for gay marriage by the US Supreme Court has me thinking about connections: connections between opposing ideals; connections between people; connections between laws, both God’s and man’s; and connections between two types of freedom.
For many years in the US, the laws of God and man were very similar in many ways. Yet it is increasingly clear that the US is not a Theocracy as secular ideals take a deeper hold in the nation’s populace. Truly, the US has never been a Theocracy but a Democracy. Yet we are all encouraged to vote our conscience, thus our politicians have been elected and laws passed based upon the majority and their ideals. But ideals change with the seasons as population trends change. No doubt these things are fairly self-evident, along with the fact that the US Constitution protects freedom of religion, yet they form the basis of some of the next things I will say.
What we are seeing is the culmination of the effort in the US to balance two freedoms: Religious freedom and Personal freedom. It is easy enough to balance the two when they are in agreement. Yet in those times where the two are at odds, great conflict has arisen and continues to be evident. Thus the legal system must judiciously stand in the gap between the two opposing ideals. So this week, the US celebrates a victory for Personal freedom that amounts to gay couples being able to not just be married, but also to now live in the benefits that hetero’s have taken for granted for years; tax breaks, and medical information sharing by hospitals to name a few.
What concerns me going forward is the ramifications of this ruling. Yes, it is now legal in all 50 states for homosexuals to get married. But is it legal for a pastor with religious convictions to deny marrying a homosexual couple? Yes, there have been these exceptions made, yet we have already been seeing that the legal system is processing disputes to that nature with bakers, and church facilities. How long will it be before ‘denying service’ is attempted to be extended to pastors who perform wedding ceremonies? Or how long will it be before expressing a religiously based opinion regarding homosexual acts and Heaven and Hell is considered ‘hate speech’?
This begs the question of whether all religiously inspired speech is as careful and loving as it should or could be. While that is a very important topic, it is, nevertheless a discussion for another day.
Of course these are rhetorical questions at the moment since no one really knows the future outside of divine revelation. It is my hope that the show-down does not happen. And yet I cannot imagine why it would not since there is this constant struggle between Religious and Personal freedoms. What this means, ultimately, is that with the rainbow connection now made secure in the law, we must pray now more than ever that our governors, legislators, judges and presidents all have the wisdom of Solomon going forward.
The buzz today thanks to CNN’s recently released article about Pew Research’s most recent poll is that Christians in USA have slipped from 78.4% to 70.6% of the population in a mere 7 years. A quick look at the facts that make up this figure and we find a few interesting tid-bits: 1st and least surprising is that Millennials are leaving their churches in droves; 2nd the one church group that seems least affected by the exodus is the Evangelical wing of the Protestant movement.
I find this 2nd tidbit most intriguing because the conclusion of the author of the CNN piece, Daniel Burke, seems to be that Christianity needs to become more socially innovative and intellectually challenging as Burke quotes L. Gregory Jones of Duke University, who implies that Millennials are leaving most often because they do not wish to be involved in the endless debate over sexual sins and especially homosexual marriage. Yet I am not entirely sure how this washes with the facts of which churches are losing the most ground with Millennials. Evangelical churches (including Assemblies of God, many strains of Baptists, Episcopals, Methodist, and Church of Christ to name but a few) being the category which is both the least inclined to let go of traditional definitions of sin also is the category which is ‘shrinking’ less than the others as a percentage. Add to that an understanding that the US growth is increasing and you have an indication that Evangelicals are holding firm in numbers, thus not shrinking, but simply losing ground as a percentage of a growing number. Furthermore, I have seen other studies within the evangelical category which suggests that there are definite areas of growth still happening in the Christian community; specifically such denominations as the Assemblies of God and Non-affiliated Community Churches. So is Christianity dying, or is there too much sand under some foundations found interspersed through Christendom?
As a community which definitely wants to continue to grow, I do believe we need to be looking at these churches that are growing and begin to understand why in order to decide if the reasons they are growing are for bedrock foundational reasons… and if so, begin to model the rest of our Churches after them at least in part so that we can resume the commission of reaching the lost and making disciples. Truly, more than simply jotting down numbers on a tally, I do believe that needs to be our focus. Furthermore, one of the things that I know to be happening is that some churches draw from other churches. Frankly, I am not fond of that practice in the least. But I also know that the spark of Christ in a dynamic church also draws from people who are seeking and have no church home. I honestly believe that should be our goal as Christians… to make NEW disciples. I do believe I saw that somewhere. But, again, we need to comprehend the ‘how’. Perhaps we can find a key or two about that as we look at a few successfully growing churches.
One of my favorite models is that of Cornerstone Community Church of Simi Valley. Cornerstone was started by an Asian-American by the name of Francis Chan. Francis defies certain traditions in that he wears a clean white T-shirt and sandals as he shares the Good News of Christ. Yet as an independent he does not shrink from professing any part of the Gospel. Two of the things that has impressed me most about Francis is his humility and frugality (I happened to fly on the same plane as Francis this past April… and yes, we were both flying coach). After his book, ‘Crazy Love’ became amazingly successful (proceeds from it he uses entirely philanthropically) and his church grew to mega-church size, Francis stepped down from his head pastor-ship at Cornerstone and went off-grid for a few years. During that time he and his wife traveled through Asia and Africa looking for where God would have him work next in a low-profile sense. Unfortunately for his desire to stay out of the lime-light (but fortunately for us and the world), this past year he released another book, this one about marriage. The book, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity is offered for free as e-book format, or should people choose to buy it, the proceeds go to help orphans around the world, among other charities. Thus, a look at the former leadership would suggest that Cornerstone’s success was in no small part due to the integrity evidenced from the pulpit along with his ability to elucidate the truths found in scripture.
So what else can we learn from this very successful church movement among others? These and other questions we need to begin to take very seriously as Christians and to drop some of our in-fighting and bemoaning the loss of the good-old-days long enough to comprehend the dynamics of growing churches and begin to apply some of the principles of success. I will be taking time in the near future to begin comprehending some of these questions and will gladly share any pertinent information and conclusions as I find it.
Thank you for taking the time to read.