Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Biblical christianity is, as Paul said in Galatians 2:20, our having been crucified with Christ, nevertheless, we live; yet it is not us living, but Christ living through us: and the life we now live in the flesh [body] we live through the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. That is a bit more involved than doing what we think Jesus might do in a given situation.
However, that said, there is something to observing how Jesus lived. In Hebrews 12:2 He is said to be the "pioneer" of our faith. When we live empowered by the indwelling Spirit creating the reality of Christ in us, it will not look fundamentally different than He did as He lived 2000 years ago on this planet. That Spirit will create in us that same love, compassion, mercy, faith, steadfastness, forgiveness and relationship styles that were seen in the thirty-three earthly years of our pioneer of the faith.
So, to see how Jesus related to women in life and in ministry might be a helpful thing. Let's do just that. WWJD?
The culture in which Jesus lived and ministered did not do very well with regards to women. It will not be necessary to speak much on this point as it is well documented in recorded history. I will just remind us that the Religious leaders of the day had a terrible track record with their attitude toward the female gender. One first century Rabbi, Eliezer, put it this way..."Rather should the words of the Torah [scriptures] be burned than entrusted to a woman. Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her laciviousness." Pretty tough view of women don't you think?
An historian notes that another Rabbi said..."He who speaks much with a woman [in context referring to his wife] draws down misfortune on himself, neglects the words of the law and, finally, earns hell." [That's a woman you live with. Other women were treated worse.]
Remember, these were the words of the religious leaders who taught the people. They WERE believed by the way.
A final historical note about the culture Jesus lived in using Rabbinical sayings. [A Rabbinical saying would be much like an axiom or a statement generally accepted as true in our day.]
"It is well for those whose children are male, but ill for those whose children are female."
"At the birth of a boy there is joy, but at the birth of a girl there is great sadness."
"When a boy comes into this world, peace has come, but with the coming of a girl, nothing."
"Even the most virtuous woman is a witch."
"Four qualities are evident in women: they are greedy at their food, eager to gossip, lazy and jealous."
[And we haven't even spoken of marriage and divorce yet.]
When the gospel writers were, under inspiration, giving the record they gave, there is no doubt they would have recorded any actions of Jesus that might have reflected this bias toward women had there been any, because it would be the normal way of life for men. There was none. Quite to the contrary, His life and ministry reflected just the opposite. There was an intential elevation of women to an equality that was totally foreign to that culture. Let's see how.
He taught them. This in and of itself was culture shattering. They were part of His discipleship group. In Luke 8 it says in v1 "His twelve..[men]..were with Him and certain women." [Three are named and are said to be ministering to Him.] In v5 He taught the parable of the sower and in v21 He declares "These [men and women] are my mother and brothers."
At the end of this gospel it records that at least three women were among those telling the apostles of the empty tomb. In 24:23 of Luke the eleven and those with them [including at least three women] had Jesus appear to them, eat with them, and command them to preach repentence and remission of sins in His name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem and there is no exclusion clause about women being exempt from this commision.
One final comment about Jesus and women in His life and ministry. Back in Luke 11:27 it is recorded that Jesus was teaching when a women spoke loudly and said "Blessed is the womb that bare thee and the paps at which you sucked."
She was overwhelmed by His obvious greatness and shouted out another axiom of that day. The Rabbi's taught "Whereby do women earn merit? By making their children go to the Synogogue to learn scripture and their husbands to the Rabbinical school to learn Mishnah and wait for her husband until he returns." In other words, a woman had no personal opportunity at spiritual things except through her representative husband and male children. It was being under his umbrella that was the source of her blessing. This woman sincerely believed that and, if true, Mary was blessed beyond measure because of her Son who was serving God as no other.
But Jesus amazingly cut that view to pieces with His response. He said "Blessed rather are those [men and women in context] who hear the word of God and obey it." This means a woman is blessed by personal connectedness and obedience to God just as a man is blessed by the same. There is no representative for the female other than the One who sits at the right hand of God making intercession for all believers. It is called equal footing in spiritual matters.
This leads me to a final concluding statement. Whatever the epistles record as instructions for church life, those instructions will not undo, when understood with correct interpretation, what Jesus did with women. You can take that to the bank.
One final look at this thing of women in life and ministry next time.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
In the past, when too long a time would transpire between postings that are my creation, I would put up someones' that has been a particular blessing to me. I remember one from Jon Zens and another from John Reisinger that many of you commented about enjoying.
Well, I'm not ready, having just returned from several days of ministry at Southside Baptist Church in Huntsville Alabama, to put up my next in the series of posts I'm doing. So, enjoy someone else's like I did.
This time from a young mother in Alaska who has written a rather honest and clear statement about the struggles that often occur when there are disagreements over some theological issues. [Other issues also for that matter.] Her name is Molly Aley and her blog is ..http://adventuresinmercy.wordpress.com/ Read what she says on this post, especially her honest personal evaluation and the conclusions to which she comes. I'm putting it up with her permission. Enjoy.
From Molly Aley..
"I am a part of an email group made up of mothers of many young children and have been for many years. It's a Christian group and, for the most part, fairly conservative--at least, the vocal ones are. Since I have five young children, a resource like this group can be nice, even though five kids is a fairly small family there. Usually, life with my "small" family keeps me too busy to even bother to read through the email digest, but every so often I will, and, once in a while, I will write a post to send in.Recently, this group was talking about how adult children, especially daughters, are Biblically commanded to stay home until and/or if they become married. Mothers were being encouraged to train their daughters that way, etc, and to beware the dangerous world of feminism.
So I wrote a post of polite dissent, using many passages of Scripture to explain my position and mentioning some of the many women in Scripture who did not "home-keep," such as the women who travelled with Jesus, or Phoebe, who Paul had deliver the letter to the Romans. Many women emailed me to tell me thank you, to let me know that the group has many who are not ultra-conservative and that it's nice to hear dissenting voices.
But one woman emailed me more than a few times, letting me know, in that lovely "righteous anger" that we Christians can use so well, that because I disagreed with her position, I was obviously not a student of God's Word, was relativistic, my words were poisonous and she wouldn't read them (though she must have read enough to let me know how horrifically wrong I was), and that I obviously didn't believe Scripture at all. She closed her final letters, of course, by letting me know she'd be praying for me (you know, that warm "Christian" way of sticking a knife in your rib) and, well, that was that.
What bothered me was the complete lack of logic employed in her responses. She couldn't hear anything I said---and, for that matter, didn't appear to be trying to. She'd formed her interpretational grid and it was water-tight. Not only was it infallible, but it had to be protected: it was dangerous to even listen to any other arguments. She wrote claiming she wanted conversation and asking me to answer a few questions, but it turned out conversation was the last thing we had. People can't have a conversation when one side has their fingers in their ears and then, despite the fact that they openly tell you they will not listen to the answers you gave to their questions, proceed to tell you exactly what you think and why, resorting to personal jabs while doing so.Urgh.
It got me thinking about how dumb we all can be. I was on the receiving end of a wildly whacking combatant (though I didn't even want a fight!), and yet I can think of many times when I did the exact same thing. Did it for God, no less! That was back when my theology was something I had to protect against any dissenting opinions, back when my beliefs about gender were part and parcel with the Gospel, back when I thought our normal/resting position was to be ready to fight instead of ready to embrace.
Good grief. I hope I have matured and I hope I will continue to do so (by the sheer grace of our holy God). I admit, I had the urge to take a stick and whop this particular writer a few times. She said some vicious things about my heart, making huge assumptions about what I must be like all because I did not agree with her. She employed no reasoning skills whatsoever. When it came to listening skills, it was like talking to a stump. And she was so mean! I, at least, wanted her to know how wrong she was for doing that.
But why? Because I care about what she thinks about me? I'd love to pretend like I was hurt and wounded but, uh, no. I don't even know this woman. What do I care what she thinks? Do you want to know why I wanted her to know she was wrong in her approach? Mainly because I want to have the last word. I want to end the little flurry with the feeling of having thrown the last knife. Which means I'm no different from the attacker. Whether she was right or wrong, she violated what it means to walk in the Spirit by the way she treated me. And I did the exact same back to her.
So what is more important---to be "right" in intellectual belief, or to live rightly? When Jesus was dividing the sheep and the goats, He seemed to think that those who "got" the Gospel---those who showed it by serving the underdog's of the world---were the ones who knew Him, not the ones who knew about Him. Ouch. Knowing about Him (and ramming that down dissenters throats) is a heck of a lot easier.
Sometimes things that the complementarian/patriarchy camp says make my stomach lurch. This isn't their fault: it's just where I'm at. I've had a really bad experience living in the C world. I came out with something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder, if that makes any sense. My health is just now pulling itself back together, slowly, in pieces.
Sometimes I read a C statement and I want to fire out comments or posts---and do---from that place of adrenalin-fueled reactionary instinct, like a missile gun seeing an enemy and shooting accordingly.
But I am a Christian. Far higher than gender roles (or lack thereof) is the "role" given to all followers of Christ: we are called to walk by the Spirit, to live by the Spirit, to be taught by the Spirit. Like the womb of a fertile woman, I am designed to bear the Spirit's fruit. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Self-control. There is no law against such as these, because the world cannot ever have enough of such things.
But those things go against most of my natural inclinations. They must be born in me through Him, because this branch will naturally wither up on it's own. Far higher than the law of my warring members, which want to stab and thrust and parry (or run and hide, or scoff and criticize, etc), is the Law of God, the Law that says Love sums up the law.
I must give the benefit of the doubt to those I am speaking with: that they love God as much as I do, that they have the right to interpret Scripture differently than I do, and that calling them names or assuming evil motives on their interpretational choices is sheer folly on my part. And sometimes, in order to help me do that, I must remember what it feels like to not be heard, to have assumptions made about my heart all because I disagree, to be put into a box and sealed up. It doesn't feel good. It's not what we were born to be. It's not what I was born to do. Though I do it far too often.
Conversation is only conversation in so far as two people are actually taking the time to listen to each other. I know that I could stand to do a much better job of that.
Molly, Mary and I know that woman who sent you the E-mail. I was her pastor several times. In fact, if I remember correctly, she moved her membership to every church we ever pastored. :) Good words for us all.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
But, interestingly, God is now working with fallen humanity which eventually sets up a culture or society that is also fallen. It is within that context that God works to bring about His plan to restore relationships to their original plan and purpose. God accommodates Himself to the culture produced and, in many ways, even inspires His word [through men and centuries of time] using the words and the meaning of words that are within that fallen culture. His revelation progresses to the final word He gives in Christ Himself of course. [Hebrews 1:1] He defines the full picture of redemption and gives conclusive meaning to all the Father's plan and purposes that are to be re-established through Grace. ["This is my beloved Son..hear ye Him."]
This is illustrated well in the account of Israel's desire for a King. They wanted one. They got one. Saul. You remember that, I'm sure. Later God gave a better one..David..and the beat went on. Now remember, God's plan and purpose was always for Him to be their only Sovereign. But fallen culture/society [a collection of the life strategies of fallen people] produced something other. Even in a chosen nation like Israel. God worked within a Covenant relationship with her, for sure, but He had to shape, protect, and even condemn some 'bent out of shape' relationships with her along the way . But that's where God worked. Within that structure.
Priests? The same situation. A High Priest was needed to bring about redemption because of having to work with fallen humanity. Originally, God was Sovereign, Lord, King, High Priest, Ruler, you name it..He was it to His human creation. And, ultimately, Jesus would/will be seen as Lord, King, Master, High Priest. You name it, He is it. The human king is not. The husband is not. The pastor is not. [The father is NOT the Prophet, Priest or King of the New Covenant home Jesus is]. In the New Covenant, Grace restores those relationships to their original intention and, eternity, at His return, will only bring it all home. This must not be missed if we are to understand the New Testament.
That brings me to the illustration of all I've said that will help us the most, I think. It is the understanding of Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 against the backdrop I've just given. It is there [because we unfortunately try to make a hierarchical interpretation of those passages fit with God's purpose in creation when it doesn't at all] that major confusion is set up in New Covenant relationships if we're not extremely careful.
We must remember that in scripture no one is commanded to "subject" anyone under them. Originally that was not intended and would violate God's plan. [This is why slavery is so abhorrent. It violates God's original plan and purpose for humanity although He worked within a fallen culture where it, unfortunately, was the norm often times. The same can be said of gender slavery.] It is certainly true that in the New Covenant kind of relationship we have in Christ, [a new culture/society] because of Grace, that forced subjection certainly isn't allowed. That would obviously violate the forbidding of such as commanded in Mark 10:42-44 and other places.
Well then what is it the passages in question [Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3] are saying? That is what we turn to now.
In Ephesians 5 and similar places where there is to a "subjecting" [serving--hupotasso] it is in the middle voice [Greek] which means to choose to serve. [In English we have the active and passive but the Greek is more intricate than that.] For the Church or Body of Christ, it is never by fiat or because of a demand by someone who is the ruler of someone else. There is but one Lord for all believers.
In fact, this whole section of Eph. 5 is not speaking about authority or rule at all or even "who's the boss." It is addressing a serving [subjecting] that is chosen from within the person doing the serving. In Ephesians 5:21 it is everyone choosing to serve each other. This refers to male and female, pastor and people, parents and children, anyone who is in Grace. Remember this is the New Covenant. [The new culture in Christ.] In verse 22 the word "submit" isn't even there. Verse 22 is connected to verse 21 [there were no verse/chapter divisions originally, as you know I'm sure] where it is used for all Christians toward each other as we've said.
It is only then that verse 22 describes the wife's serving of her husband, with verses 25-31 describing the husband's serving of his wife as Christ does the Church, and all this is an outgrowth of all being filled with the Spirit. [verse 18] It is this change of heart that comes because of Grace [remember that horrible thing of Genesis 3:16 where everyone wanted to be the 'boss'] that is being described and it continues to be described in chapter 6 of children to parents [a different word is used here] and slaves to their masters. They were to choose to serve in a different way. From the heart as to the Lord. The masters were to do likewise to the slaves.
Of course there were those in charge as the parents were of the children [that's why the different word] and masters were of their slaves. But, notice, there is a lesser inherent condition where one is in charge of another because of some unique lacking such as the maturity of children or the non-freedom of the slaves. If men are to be in charge of women in the family, what is it that is lacking in the female that makes male authority inherently needed? There is none. And in Ephesians 5 or Colossians 3 [or Genesis 1 and 2 for that matter] there is none indicated. It took the fall for the problem of lording it over to arise as reflected in fallen cultures. No ruling or authority meant here at all. It is serving that is at issue here. Not "authority."
The problem seems to stem from the meaning of the word "head" in this passage. It isn't speaking of "rule" or "authority." It is speaking of origination or source. If ruling or authority had been intended, the word [remember His revelation was given in that Greco/Roman culture not ours] "arche" [archon-Rom 13:3] meaning leader or ruler would have been used. Or even the word "exousea." [Rom 13:1-2] meaning "authority" would have said it. But the word is, indeed, "kephale." It meant to them the origination or source. [As God is to Christ and Christ is to the Church and the man is to the woman.] In fact, it's interesting to me the scriptures never declare the man to be the "head" of the family but the wife only. Both husband and wife are the source [head in the Greek way of thinking] of that family of the New Covenant. But had the "authority" or "rule" of Christ of the Church or the husband of the wife been intended other language would have been used. As, for example, in scripture, [because of their culture understanding it this way] to "rule," the feet are used metaphorically. "To be put under [some one's] feet." What did "head" mean to them? As I said...origination or source.
A side note of interest. In Colossians 2:10 we are told [told to all christians] "In Him you have been made complete and He is the head over all rule and authority." In verse 15 it is pointed out He, by His Cross work, has "disarmed all rulers and authorities." So...we are to not allow ourselves to be judged [a standard set and deemed violated by another] concerning food, drink, new moons sabbaths or such because, as verse 19 says, all of us are connected to the Head. [Christ] It is not saying He's the authority over all authorities or rulers. [Though He certainly is.] It's saying He is the source of all Authorities that exist. Now He has disarmed all and is the only source [head] of life, nourishment, [rule and authority too for that matter reversing that Genesis 3:16 mess] for all His people in the New Covenant established on Grace in Christ.
It is true that redeemed Christians are living in a fallen culture with established "rulers" authorities" and will until He returns and are to obey [serve] them. But it is inside out. It is a heart issue for us. Were we to operate the Church or family that way, [with rulers or authorities by virtue of position] we would be bringing our fallen culture into the meaning of scripture and not be letting scripture alone be our guide. You can see, I'm sure, that I do not believe the scriptures support a patriarchial approach to the family at all. You have to bring fallen culture in as a foundation for that kind of view. The sufficiency of the scripture is where I believe we ought to stand. Where Christ is our Head [source] AND Lord. [Boss]
That brings me to say this in conclusion. The cultural context in which the scriptures were inspired used language with their meaning not ours. I've said this ad-nauseam. To us, "head" means "boss" or "leader" or "one in charge." Not to them. It meant origination or source. It is trying to interpret the text with our cultural connotations rather than the original connotation of their language that gets us into hot water with the intended meaning of scripture it seems to me.
[ A final aside. I've read where someone said, though I can't remember who or where at the moment, that Aristotle believed the head was the source of male sperm and it traveled down the spine to the genitals. Plato believed the head was the seat of the soul which was, in his mind, a seed itself. He often used 'Kephale' to refer to the beginning of a story. Athena is said to have come from her father's [Zeus] head. No wonder Paul would use 'head' the way he did. It had the meaning of "source" to them and that WAS the truth God was speaking. Culture does impact scripture but let's be sure we know how, why, and which one is doing the impacting.]
More to come on the next post about this kind of stuff.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Biblically, in the first two chapters of Genesis there are no words used in the text which gives the account of the creation of Adam [male/female created He them] that would even hint of a subordination of the woman to the man. To the contrary, they are seen in a partnership with equal responsibilities that are not defined by roles at all. Jointly, they were to care for the garden, animals and be involved in the process of reproduction. ["Let them have dominion...them multiply."] There is NO language of male rule or subordination of the woman here at all. It will take some later language interpreted culturally to bring that about as we shall see.
Even the word "helper" [helpmate: Hebrew is Ezer] used of the woman, when examined as scriptural language, is a word that reflects NO subordination. It refers to one who comes to rescue those in need. It was used of God Himself several times regarding His relationship to Israel and the nations. No subordination there. Just purpose. God is the one needed to make things right. So was the woman with this lonely man.
In fact, the first hint of a subordination of the woman to man in Genesis is in 3:16 and is clearly, when interpreted by the text alone, to be seen as the tragic outcome of sin in both the man and woman in terms of relationship. She..will "desire" her husband. It is the same word used in chapter 4 where sin is said to desire Cain after the killing of Abel. It is a word that means a "longing to control." Sin desired to control Cain. The Woman desires to control also....after sin has entered the picture.
In the same verse the man is seen as determined to "rule" over the woman. This also the first instance of any language of scripture portraying such an idea as the word "rule" used between the male/female. The word means to be a "dictator or despot" when used other places and is a negative thing which, clearly, is the consequence of sin entering the picture. So, again, our first view of the man/woman relationship is one of partnership and equality without defined roles except to be as one together with no "whose the boss?" emphasis at all in the scriptural text. Until, that is, the entrance of sin and the subsequent fall of man.
So, from where does the subordination of women to men come? It comes from the entrance of sin into the human race and the resulting cultures/societies of fallen humanity that built it into male/female relationships as an on-going pattern revealed in history, including biblical history. [We will look a little more fully at this later in this series of talks.] But, originally it was not so and it is back to the original plan and purpose of God for men/women relationships that Grace takes us as we shall see.
When we do find a Grace prescription passage for family male/female relationships, [the Genesis 3:16 verse is descriptive of sin's consequence NOT God's intention as I've said] it will not be one of subordination at all. It will take us back to that partnership of Genesis. Where do we find it? Ephesians 5:21-31. But there culture will raise it's interpretive head too unless we are careful to let the text speak without reading into it our presuppositions culturally. This passage we will look at next time and try to see if, in fact, those fallen male/female relationships in the family are restored to the original..
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I want to begin by simply pointing out that culture does impact interpretation of scripture and well it should. It is a major principle of hermeneutics [principles for biblical interpretation] that you understand the culture [history] of the sacred writings. It is that culture that gives understanding, to some degree, to the words of the text. Suppose I tell someone of my culture that I rode a 'hog' to the cafe to eat supper. A later generation might argue over whether pigs should be eaten or ridden and might accuse the other side of not being fit for fellowship-- unless --they know that my culture understands a 'hog' can be a reference to a motorcycle and may not be referring to an actual animal being eaten OR ridden. So it is with understanding the culture into which the scriptures were given by inspiration. That culture impacts our seeing what the intended meaning really is.
That said, it remains for the interpreter, under guidance from the Spirit, to use all the tools necessary to fully understand the grammar, syntax, history, context, and guidance of the Spirit to get to that original meaning. But two things I do wish to say here...
#1 --The goal of interpretation of scripture is not to find what no-one else has ever found but to discover and disclose the true meaning of the text. However, an interpretation may seem unique to one who has never seen it according to Fee and Stuart in their "How to Read The Bible For All It's Worth." [p. 14] I can truthfully say I do not remember ever seeing the new meaning of a verse that someone else has not caused me to investigate with their new [new to me] insight. I do trust my final conclusion is NOT because they said it but that I see it in the text. To give credit to a person for my understanding of a verse would be impossible as much as I would like to speak of a James I Packer, Gordon Fee, John Reisinger, Jon Zens, David Johnson, Cheryl Schatz and a host of others. [Ancient writers I could have mentioned and the new ones I did mention.]
#2--You do not have to be a bible scholar to understand the scriptures. Any Christian does have an unction [anointing] from the Holy One [1 John 2:20] and is able to come to some understanding of the bible on his/her own. I would say it is good to use any available tool/teacher/method one might choose and to hold conclusions lightly allowing them to be confirmed by godly people along the way. All the time remembering it is possible to get lost in the forest [scriptures] while looking at the trees [doctrines] and, unless willing to find a high place to get the big picture of the whole forest, [scriptures] you may not find your way to Truth as I will show in a moment.
That leads to another rule/principle for proper interpretation and that is that no one verse or passage can be interpreted alone. It must be seen, as the Scofield Reference Notes accurately points out when referencing 11 Peter 1:20, the 'no private interpretation' means 'It's own interpretation, i.e. not isolated from all the Word has given elsewhere.' This principle will be very important in correctly seeing a couple of passages that, on the surface or taken by themselves, would seem to lead to a doctrine [tree] condemning women to never saying anything for all time in the Church. Another single passage that seems to say, on the surface, the woman has another head [authority] other than Christ who is the Head of the Church. Is that what was originally meant by these few passages? [Trees] We shall see as we look at the whole of the scriptures. [Forest].
So we begin with a need for the context of the whole of scripture on this 'woman' issue that has resulted in these feeble words of mine on women in the Church and life in general. My first post spoke of the well known clash between Egalitarians and Fundamentalists/Complementarians over roles of women in scripture and even discrimination against women in some religious circles. But my purpose in later posts will not be to prove one view or the other [remember I don't like labels] but, rather, to speak of a better understanding of the view of the whole of scripture with regards to women in the Church and in life in general. My goal is to look from a high ground biblical perspective at God's intention and purpose for male/female relationships and particularly the female's freedom and value because of creation and redemption through Christ and her subsequent value to the Church and in the world. Let me say it clearly here.....
No voice will ever speak of the equality and value of women more clearly or present the personal freedom and joy that comes in being female than will the voice that proclaims the meaning of scripture as God originally intended it in regards to women, be that voice male or female. The gospel really does set captives free whether it is one enslaved to sin or men.
Our first big picture view next time.