Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Blessing of Freedom for 2009

A Blessing of Freedom for 2009

Typically each New Year I become very introspective. I spend a good bit of time evaluating my life and the relationships I am so blessed to enjoy. I enter a time of remembering the people and experiences of the past year and even those of more distant years. I think God had his people celebrate certain feasts and events yearly for these very reasons. So this year I have done the same and after prayer and contemplation I continue to feel that 2009 will be the year of Freedom.
Freedom comes in many forms and it isn’t always what we imagine it to be. Freedom isn’t just the ability to do as one chooses. Freedom is also the ability to do as one should do. I sense that in 2009, the people of God will be more aware of the specific journeys to which God has called them, both the easy paths and those that are more difficult to traverse. While most people realize that to some degree they are immersed in a process, I feel that in 2009 God will pull back the curtain a bit for the purpose of allowing us to understand with greater clarity that our walks are not only with Him and through Him, but that they are also very much for Him. The glory God receives from the seemingly mundane and unimportant tasks undertaken faithfully by those who follow Him will be made known. Additionally, the journeys that have seen or will see tragedy and pain will be softened with the divine understanding that our security has never been found in the things or even the people that are so painfully torn from us in this world. Our identity, as strenuously as we have fought to prove and live out a reality stating otherwise, has never been found within things or even people. Our identity, our security and the sole legacy we will one day leave for those who will follow us in this world will be defined largely by the freedom we learn to live out within our relationship with the Creator…that freedom is found through the resurrected Messiah.
Freedom through the resurrected Messiah is crucial because Resurrected Lord is the impulse to ministry and to the inclination to live life intimately with others. “When He saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like a sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9). This passage of exquisite tenderness offers a glimpse into the humanity of Jesus. It tells us how he felt, and still feels, about mankind. It reveals his way of looking at the world…His nonjudgmental attitude toward people who were looking for meaning in vacant lands and who were seeking happiness in vain pursuits. We are safe in our assumption that Jesus feels the same about us today as the heart of Jesus beats the same yesterday, today and forever.
Every time the gospels mentioned that Jesus was moved with deep emotion for people, they show that it lead him to do something-often that thing providing freedom through physical or spiritual deliverance and healings. Above all, the deep emotions lead him to remove the distorted images of who he is and who God is, to lead people out of darkness into light… the very definition of freedom. Jesus’ compassion moved him to tell the story of God’s love and the freedom offered us through intimacy with Him.
So in turn, our impulse to tell our story of how we are delivered from darkness into the Light arises from listening to the heartbeat of the risen Jesus within us. Telling the story doesn’t require, and may well even prohibit, that we become ordained ministers, nor does it demand that we try to convert people by concussion with one sledgehammer blow of doctrine after another. It simply means we share with others the ways in which our journey has been orchestrated, altered and blessed by the Author and Finisher of our faith. It simply requires that our freedom is experienced in community.
The imposter recoils at the prospect of telling such story because, having not yet been totally freed from his fears, which love always does, rejection casts a dark and intimidating shadow. The tension and anxiety produced by the fraudulent one who has never walked with the Master into the light and has never danced in the circle of God’s community is present because of the realization that he must rely on himself. Fearing failure, he knows that his power is limited by his paltry resources.
The true self is not cowed by timidity. Strengthened and carried on by a power greater than one’s own, the authentic seekers find basic security and reckless freedom in the awareness of the Risen One. Jesus, rather than self, is always the indispensable core of the free person and the free community. “Cut off from me, you can do nothing” (John 15). The moment we acknowledge that when we are alone and powerless, we enter into the liberating sphere of the Risen Messiah. Hence, we are freed from anxiety over the outcome.
When the final curtain of 2009 falls, let us reflect once again with great satisfaction and exhilaration that we have again participated with God in His mission in our lives and in His will for this world He created. May we all be free for Him, through Him and because of Him! May it be so.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Divorce and Remarriage

Last week a friend of a friend asked my opinion about the idea of a divorced person being permitted to marry again. I offered my opinion but I wasn't satisfied with that and wanted to do some additional research. After reading a ton of material and thinking about different scriptures and stories in the Bible I wrote the following reply. Most of this is really groundbreaking information to me. Maybe it will be a blessing to others as well. Enjoy.

In researching the idea of a divorced people who wish to remarry it seems that Paul is the most appropriate example of this. Until the past 2 days I have always been under the impression that Paul was never married since he says that he wishes that everyone would remain as him and not marry (I Cor 7:7). However there is a significant amount of information leading me to believe that Paul was in fact not married as he wrote I Corinthians but that he had in fact been married before. This is why I say that Paul had been married before, for some reason he was no longer married (I have a good theory for why that may be as well) and Paul felt that, should he so choose, he was free to marry again.

Paul was a Pharisee and the son of Pharisees according to Acts 23:6. That one statement tells us a lot about Paul. It tells us that he and his family had very rigid expectations and laws by which they lived. As a Jew and more specifically a Pharisee, though most of this would apply to Sadducees as well, his marriage would have occurred no later than his early 20's. Additionally, his marriage would have been arranged by his parents. There is no precedent or reason to think that Pharisees would not choose a spouse for their child outside of other devout Pharisees. In fact, choosing someone outside of their social strata could lead to someone being ineligible for leadership and being a social outcast.

Paul, actually prior to his conversion so it would be Saul, was a member of the Sanhedrin Counsel. The Sanhedrin members were selected and only the best of the best, in terms of knowing and following all 613 laws of the Mitzvot. An additional requirement for the Sanhedrin was that they be married. Therefore, for Paul to be a member, as we know he was based on his presence at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:59). We also know of his membership in the Sanhedrin because only the Sanhedrin could cast votes condemning others and Acts 26:9-11 states Paul did just that. We also know this because Acts 22 states that Paul was a student of the Sanhedrin High Priest, Nasa Gamaliel. Only a younger Sanhedrin member would be allowed to study under a chief priest. So anyway, we can feel quite comfortable that Paul was married at one point. So what happened so that he became single again?

Paul wrote about such highly emotional issues that he likely would have written about the death of his wife, especially at what would have been such an unexpected death due to her age. I feel that it is unlikely that his wife died. I think it is more likely that Paul's wife divorced him due to his conversion. I say that because as prestigious as Paul and his family were, Paul would have been betrothed to someone equally prestigious in the religious circles. It is also true that Paul climbed the ladder of religious success and his wife would have received a place of honor among the other religious types due to Paul's success. It wouldn't be unlike a very young attractive Governor or Senator in the US and how it may be like someone that married into the Kennedy would come with certain expectations from both sides. My best theory is that when Paul converted to Christianity his wife, with the support of her family, divorced Paul and returned to her home. Philippians 4:3 may also indicate that Paul had come to Christ at such a great cost. When Paul writes that he lost everything to follow Christ, that certainly would include his status within his religious society and very likely a marriage.

So if we can accept that Paul was married and that his wife left him after his conversion to Christianity...or at any other time for any other reason, we know that by the time he wrote I Cor he was single. We know that Paul wrote his first letter to the churches in Corinth while he was in Ephesus around the year 56 A.D and that this letter was likely only his 4th letter written of the 14 letters that became the majority of the New Testament. This would also support that early on in his ministry he was already single. The most important part of this conversation comes in the 7th and 9th chapters of I Corinthians. Paul writes the following:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don't we have the right to food and drink? Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas

It seems from this passage that Paul would feel comfortable in and even entitled to "taking a believing wife". I would suggest that this is in opposition to the unbelieving wife he had previously and would also answer those people still focused on Mosaic Law who may be trying to sit in judgment of Paul for the very thought of him taking a wife after being divorced. Otherwise we must ask why would Paul defend something that he was being judged regarding? We can also tell through implication and inference that people who attempt to prevent people from remarrying are attempting to deny people freedom extended to them by God. The idea of a religious leader attempting to limit the freedom of others certainly wasn't an act pertaining to the 1st Century alone.

Perhaps we can learn a good deal about Paul from the ways in which he refers to himself. I think the Greek in the I Cor 9 text is important as Paul doesn't refer to himself in this text as "parqenos" which is "a virgin-one never married". Further in I Cor 7:7-9 Paul refers to himself as "Agamoi" which means "one previously given in marriage". He goes on to suggest to other "Agamoi" that he wishes they would stay unmarried as he is doing but that should they have within them a passion to be with another sexually that they should indeed marry rather than stay technically unmarried and "burn with passion". This verse is typically not taught as specifically speaking to the previously married among us and if it is understood in a general context it seems to be in opposition to God saying in Genesis that man was alone and it was not good. If understood as a confirmation to people have been married before and may wish to remarry, this scripture doesn't have any conflicting facets with God's opinion in Genesis.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Henri Nouwen Quote and Advent

Henri Nouwen was a great writer and his legacy continues to shine a bright light on all who read his works. Despite being a big fan of Nouwen, I had never seen the quote from him I saw last night at the Disciple's Fellowship Advent Journey. I have to give props to Tyler and Helen for putting that together. It was a great chance to walk my family through that journey. Below is the quote. I pray it blesses you as it has blessed me.

"Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Small Group Discussion: Gender Roles

Dear Fellow Travelers,
In light of our recent discussions regarding gender roles within the Biblical marriage and within the universal church, I thought it best to compile a background on the two competing schools of thought and a brief summary of each. The two primary perspectives within this discussion (though some theologians claim the Bible actually supports a mixture of the two) are known as Complementarianism and Egalitarianism.
Complementarianism holds that "God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church." Complementarianism maintains that men and women are equal in the sense that they bear God’s image equally. But with respect to roles in the church and in marriage, gender-based differences determine or restrict the roles appropriate for each. Specifically, there are requirements of men, and restrictions on women. Men are expected to take spiritual responsibility, often called headship, for leadership in the home and in the church. Women are restricted from holding the teaching office of the church and from spiritual leadership in the home and in marriage.
The husband is considered to have the God-given responsibility to provide for, protect, and lead the family. A wife is to submit herself to the leadership of her husband, respecting her husband and serving as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation. Complementarian thought has also been highly influential in the area of Christology and Trinitarian Theology. Since 1977 most evangelicals some complementarians have adopted a semi-subordinationist Christology, which states that God-the Son and God-the Spirit are eternally subordinate to God-the Father. While they deny any aspect of this position pertaining to ontological subordination, they nonetheless state that it is a permanent and eternal state defining the Trinitarian relationship. Complementarians hold to this view ostensibly because they believe that the Son's (and Holy Spirit's) eternal subordination to the Father is analogous to women's subordination of role to men. It is important to remember that semi-subordinationism is Neo-Arianism, a heretical teaching from the 3rd Century.
Christian egalitarianism is the belief that all people are equal in fundamental worth and moral status. All have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God. God freely calls believers to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race. According to Christian egalitarianism gender equality in Christian church leadership (including pastors) and in Christian marriage is biblically sound. Its theological foundations are interpretations of the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and other New Testament principles. It refers to the biblically-based belief that gender, in and of itself, neither privileges nor curtails a believer’s gifting or calling to any ministry in the church or home. It does not imply that women and men are identical or undifferentiated. Christian Egalitarianism affirms that God designed men and women to complement and benefit one another.
Christian egalitarian teachings have been fundamental in the universal church’s fight against racism, slavery and gender inequality both in the church and within marriage. Jesus did not conform to a mentality unfavorable to women, but reacted against inequalities based on sexual differences. By calling women to follow him he showed that he went beyond the customs and outlook of his environment.
Complementarian and Christian Egalitarian views need not be mutually exclusive, according to some recent proposals that one can subscribe both to complementarity and Christian egalitarianism. This theoretically would allow men and women to complement each other without any form of hierarchy. This view argues that the Bible prescribes both equality and complementary positions and roles for both men and women.
I have included below a summary of each position with arguments and biblical references typically used to support both perspectives. To say the least, this is a relevant issue within the universal church and proponents of each argument are often rigid regarding their stance. This discussion shouldn’t be avoided simply because of the volatility surrounding it. Absent in the New Testament text is any reference to Jesus reprimanding or even disapproving of sincere seeking or honest questions. However, the New Testament text is full of examples of Jesus rebuking and even mocking the religious people who claimed to have a proper orthodoxy. May we never cease to seek God’s Will for each of us and may this summary help us all discuss this issue in a Godly and well-informed manner.

Grace and Peace,

A Summary of the Egalitarian Position
I. A Broad Overview of The Egalitarian Position
A. Created Equality
God created male and female as equal in all respects. Gen. 1:26-27 makes no distinction between woman and man insofar as both are equally made in His image (i.e., ontological equality), and both are given the responsibility to rule over His creation (i.e., functional equality).
B. Fallen Disorder and Hierarchy
Sin introduced into God's created order many manifestations of disorder and corrupted relationships. Among the chief examples of sin's defilement is the introduction of an illegitimate hierarchy in the relationship between woman and man. Gen. 3:16 (the curse on the woman) suggests that, because of sin, the woman would have a disposition of subservience before the man, and the man would have, in contrary measure, a disposition of supremacy over the woman. Thus, the relationship of male/female equality intended by God in creation is now defiled by the presence of a sinful and harmful hierarchical tendency.
C. Restored Equality through Redemption in Christ
Gal. 3:28 expresses the grand truth that in Christ, the false and sinful basis of male/female hierarchy has been abolished, so there is no legitimate distinction, in God's kingdom, between female and male. Full male/female equality is restored, dignity is given back to women, and servant attitudes are called for in men and women alike.
II. Primary Rationale Supporting the Egalitarian Position
A. Evidence that God's design was for male/female equality
1. Gen. 1:26-27 - shows that man and woman share the same human nature, both are made in God's image, and both are given God's commission to rule the earth. Not only is there equality of being or nature between man and woman, there is also, importantly, equality of function or task - both are commanded to rule. And note: no distinction is made to give the man a superior position in this rulership.
2. Gen. 2:18 - woman as "helper" is best understood as one who comes to complement (i.e., make complete something that is incomplete). So, far from the woman being subordinate to the man, this shows how indebted man should be to the woman. Interestingly, the Hebrew word here for helper (ezer) is used most often of God (who in no sense is subordinate to those whom He helps) in His help of others. The point, then, is that man and woman need each other and so are equal partners in this relationship, not that the woman is in a subordinate relationship to the man.
3. Gen. 2:22-24 - they are one flesh, or the same flesh, indicating full equality of person.
4. Gal. 3:28 - if it is God's purpose through redemption to abolish false and sinful distinctions that separate men and woman into classes or into a hierarchy, then this must be understood as a return to what He intended in creation, an intent that was distorted by the fall and sin but now made real again in Christ.
5. 1 Cor. 12:7-11 - Clearly, God distributes His gifts to His people as He so wills, but one's gender is not a factor in His giving any particular gift to a person. Women and men alike are recipients of all of God's gifts (e.g., see 1 Cor. 11:5 for a statement of women having the gift of prophecy). Since God's spiritual gifting is gender-neutral, and since God expects His gifts to be used in the church, it follows that men and women alike are equal in their exercise of gifts in the church.
B. Biblical Examples of Female Equality with Males
Despite the introduction of a hierarchical disposition within human beings after the fall, there are indications that God endeavored to thwart this manifestation of sin and exhibit instead egalitarian relationships even in this fallen world.
1. Female leadership in IsraelAlthough Israel was largely patriarchal (in accord with most other sin-afflicted cultures of the time and through history), God saw fit to have in Israel some expressions of female leadership. Examples are: Miriam (Exod. 15), Huldah (2 Kings 22) and Deborah (Judges 4-5) who were prophetesses; and Deborah who was also a judge in Israel. Other examples of women who had prominent roles in the spiritual formation and development of Israel, but not in official religious offices, are Esther, Ruth and Naomi.
2. Prov. 31:10-31 - provides a commendation to this ideal woman who fears the Lord and who expresses her faithful service to the Lord through business dealings outside of the home as much as her provision inside the home.
3. Female participation in Jesus' ministryThere are numerous examples of significant roles women played in Jesus' ministry, roles which, although unacceptable to the culture of the day, nevertheless display Jesus' full endorsement of women and their desire to minister. Some examples:
Luke 8:1-3 - several women who provided financially to Jesus' ministry and who even traveled with Him, learning from Him as He taught from one city and village to another.
Luke 10:38-42 - Mary was commended by Jesus for listening at His feet rather than helping the worried Martha with the household preparations. Again, Jesus encouraged women, as fully as men, to come and learn.
Matt. 15:21-28 and Luke 7:36-50 - examples of women whom Jesus held out as great examples of faith and love.
John 4:39-42 - The Samaritan woman became the first evangelist of the Gospel from among non-disciples of Jesus. This surely indicates that Jesus considered women able to teach others (men and women alike), for a witness instructs others about the central teaching, the gospel itself.
Matt. 28:1-10 and Mark 16:1-8 - Certainly God is capable of choosing those people He first wants to discover and report to others the resurrection of Jesus. Who should be those privileged people? Those first witnesses in history to the resurrection of Jesus? The Gospels of Matthew and Mark both give the names of women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) who came to the empty tomb, and received the command from the angel to tell what they now know to "His disciples and Peter" (Mark 16:7). God chose, over Peter or any other of the disciples, women to be the first to witnesses to Jesus' resurrection, again indicating Jesus' full confidence in the role of women to tell others the most important message God has for people to know.
Matt. 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 - Evangelicals uniformly understand Christ's commission to bear witness in the power of the Spirit and so make disciples as given to all of Christ's followers. Hence, proclamation of the gospel as mandated by Christ is not gender-specific.
4. Female involvement in the early Church
Acts 2 (esp. vv. 17-18) - women and men alike are recipients of the Holy Spirit.
1 Cor. 12 - as mentioned above, women and men alike are gifted by the Holy Spirit, gifts commanded to be used in the church (1 Cor. 12:7).
1 Cor. 11:5 - mention is made here of women in the church "prophesying," clearly a speaking gift used to instruct and edify those in the church. (cf. Acts 21:9)
Acts 18:26 - Priscilla (named first) and Aquila took Apollos aside "and explained to him the way of God more accurately." Priscilla, then, was exercising a teaching gift and instructing a man, who was himself also a teacher. (cf. Rom. 16:3-5)
Rom. 16:1, 7 - Paul commends two other women (besides Prisca in 16:3): Phoebe, who is a servant, perhaps a deacon, in the church; and Junia, who (if in fact a woman) is named as "outstanding among the apostles."
III. Objections to the Egalitarian Position and Responses
A. Objection: Israel's political and religious structures exhibit an almost exclusively male leadership, and this by God's calling and command. E.g., Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, 12 sons of Jacob as 12 tribes of Israel, male priests, stress on first-born sons, male kings (Athaliah, a wicked usurper of the throne, excepted).
Response: This reflects, primarily, the patriarchal culture of the time. Just as God tolerated polygamy and even introduced laws to regulate it despite His created purpose of monogamous marriages, so here He tolerated patriarchy, showing His disapproval through the women who did rise to leadership positions in Israel in spite of the cultural suppression of women.
B. Objection: You say that Jesus broke with cultural expectations and norms in permitting women participation with Him in ministry and witness to the Gospel. Why, then, did He not break with those same conventions and choose some women disciples? His choice of all male disciples suggests that He endorsed the tradition of male leadership we see throughout the Old Testament.
Response: Jesus began the process of the restoration of women to their place of full equality, a process seen continuing in the early church (e.g., Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor. 12). Jesus knew that only a certain degree of break with tradition would be possible, still leaving Him the opportunity to teach and travel freely as He did. A parallel case can be seen when Paul fails to denounce slavery, although clearly he sees it to be at odds with the freedom of the gospel.
C. Objection: Paul tells women to submit to their husbands. How can he rightly do this if, as you say, he has declared hierarchy the result of sin and now abolished in Christ?
Response: Interestingly, the fullest treatment by Paul on husbands and wives (Eph. 5:22-33) is introduced with a transitional statement in 5:21 that reads, "and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." What follows after this verse, then, cannot rightly be seen to contradict his clear command that Christian people be subject to one another. What, then, does he mean in 5:22? He gives this as a prime example of the kind of submission that needs to go on more generally among all Christian people. Its purpose is illustrative, and is not meant to single out wives as subordinate to their husbands.
D. Objection: When Paul says that the man (1 Cor. 11:3) or husband (Eph. 5:23) is the head of the woman, doesn't he mean that the man has the position of authority and responsibility over the woman?
Response: No, and this can be shown by looking at the word translated as "head" (Gr.: kephale). This term is widely used in Greek literature outside of the NT to mean "source" (as with the "head" of a river). Therefore, what this means, then, is that woman owes her existence to the fact that man was created first and, in his incomplete state, God made from him the woman. The woman, then, is "sourced" in man. As such, this word does not suggest, as many think, that man is has some rightful authority over woman.
E. Objection: When Paul says in 1 Tim. 2:11-15 that women are to learn in submission and not to teach or exercise authority over men, and that this need be the case because of the order of creation and Eve's fall into sin, doesn't this require that women are to be in a subordinate relationship in the church, with only qualified men teaching or preaching?
Response: This traditional understanding errs because it treats Paul's specific instruction to one particular church situation as though it is normative instruction to all churches at all times. There is evidence that the church at Ephesus (where Timothy pastored) was plagued with false teaching, and that this false teaching was coming primarily from women in the church who usurped authority and taught wrong doctrine about the creation and sin of Adam and Eve. If this is the case, then we must see this passage not as precluding any and all female teaching in the Church, but as a direct prohibition to these certain women in the church at Ephesus who were false teachers.
A Summary of the Complementarian Position
I. A Broad Overview of the Complementarian Position
A. Created Equality of Essence and Distinction of Role
Male and female were created by God as equal in dignity, value, essence and human nature, but also distinct in role whereby the male was given the responsibility of loving authority over the female, and the female was to offer willing, glad-hearted and submissive assistance to the man. Gen. 1:26-27 makes clear that male and female are equally created as God's image, and so are, by God's created design, equally and fully human. But, as Gen. 2 bears out (as seen in its own context and as understood by Paul in 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Tim. 2), their humanity would find expression differently, in a relationship of complementarity, with the female functioning in a submissive role under the leadership and authority of the male.
B. Fallen Disruption of God's Created Design
Sin introduced into God's created design many manifestations of disruption, among them a disruption in the proper role-relations between man and woman. As most complementarians understand it, Gen. 3:15-16 informs us that the male/female relationship would now, because of sin, be affected by mutual enmity. In particular, the woman would have a desire to usurp the authority given to man in creation, leading to man, for his part, ruling over woman in what can be either rightfully-corrective or wrongfully-abusive ways.
C. Restored Role Differentiation through Redemption in Christ
Passages such as Eph. 5:22-33 and 1 Tim. 2:8-15 exhibit the fact that God's created intention of appropriate male leadership and authority should now, in Christ, be fully affirmed, both in the home and in the church. Wives are to submit to their husbands in the model of the Church's submission to Christ, and women are not to exercise authoritative roles of teaching in the Church in view of Eve's created relation to Adam. Male headship, then, is seen to be restored in the Christian community as men and women endeavor to express their common humanity according to God's originallycreated and good hierarchical design.
II. Primary Rationale Supporting the Complementarian Position
A. Evidence that God's design was male/female equality of essence
1. Gen. 1:26-27 - shows that man and woman share the same human nature, both are made in God's image, and both are given God's commission to rule the earth. How they are, together, to rule the earth on God's behalf, is not here explained. Thus, at this point, neither egalitarianism nor complementarianism is demanded. Clearly, the thrust is that male and female are equal in essence (i.e., both fully human, both full imago Dei, both of equal value and worth to God) and together commissioned to rule over the earth.
2. Gal. 3:28 - God's redemption and regeneration of those whom He would save involves no distinction between male and female. Gender is absolutely irrelevant regarding who may or may not be saved. The clear implication, then, is that men and women are equal in essence because their salvation comes to humans with no consideration given to gender.
3. 1 Cor. 12:7-11 - Clearly, God distributes His gifts to His people as He so wills, but one's gender is not a factor in His giving any particular gift to a person. Women and men alike are recipients of all of God's gifts (e.g., see 1 Cor. 11:5 for a statement of women having the gift of prophecy). Again, this indicates that women are equal in essence with men in God's sight, but it does not preclude the possibility that God may prescribe just how those gifts be used in the Church.
4. 1 Pet. 3:7b - Saved women (wives, in this text) are to be treated with honor, precisely because they, along with saved men, are fellow-heirs of the grace of life in Christ. It is so important for husbands to understand this principle and so respect their wives in this fashion that Peter warns that husbands who do not treat their wives with the honor accorded them by God will not be heard before God in their prayers.
B. Evidence that God's design was for male/female role differentiation
1. Gen. 2 - There are at least four features of this chapter which support the idea of male-headship (i.e., male God-given authority over female). 1) The order of creation (male created first) indicates God's design of male priority in the male/female relationship. This is also Paul's observation both in 1 Cor. 11:8 and 1 Tim. 2:13. 2) God gives instructions to Adam, before the creation of Eve, not to eat fruit of the forbidden tree (2:16-17). Implied in this is Adam's responsibility to instruct his future wife and guard her from violating this prohibition (hence, the significance in 3:6 that the woman gave to the man "who was with her," showing he failed to guard his wife as he should have). 3) Eve was created to be Adam's helper. While it is true that this same Hebrew term is often used of God's "helping" people, it is clear that Paul understands Eve's role as helper to require that woman ought to be under the rightful authority of man (see 1 Cor. 11:9-10 - "man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head"). 4) Adam's naming of Eve indicates, in an OT cultural context, Adam's right of authority over the one whom he named. And interestingly, Adam named his wife twice, first when she was formed from his flesh (2:23), and second after they had both sinned (3:20), indicating that his rightful authority over her continued after sin had come.
2. Gen. 3:1-7 - Eve was tempted and deceived by the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit, and then gave it also to Adam. Eve, that is, sinned first. Despite this fact, God seeks out Adam after their sin to inquire why they were hiding (3:8ff). God approaches Adam, not Eve, as the one ultimately responsible for the sin. Likewise, Paul clearly teaches that the line of sin in the human race begins with Adam (Rom. 5:12ff; 1 Cor. 15:22). But he does this in full recognition of the fact that Eve sinned first (1 Tim. 2:14). Adam only rightly bears the responsibility as the head of the sinful human race, when Eve sinned first, if he is viewed by God and Paul as having authority and ultimate responsibility over the woman.
3. Gen. 3:16 - Sin brought about, not the beginning of a male/female relational hierarchy, but a disruption of the God-intended role of male-headship and female submission in the male-female relationship. Most complementarians understand the curse of the woman in 3:16 to mean that sin would bring about in Eve a wrongful desire to rule over her husband (contrary to God's created design), and that in response, Adam would have to assert his rule over her. This understanding comes from comparing the sentence structure and terms of Gen. 3:16 with Gen. 4:7. In 4:7, God tells Cain that sin is seeking to destroy him, and so He says "its [sin's] desire is for you, but you must master it." This means, of course, sin desires to rule over you, but you in response must rule over it. Now, the exact sentence structure is found in 3:16, where Eve is told "your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." This means, in light of 4:7, Eve's desire will be to rule illegitimately over Adam (note: certainly sin could not be credited with giving Eve a loving or caring desire for Adam, could it?), and in response Adam will have to assert his rightful rulership over her. Most complementarians hold, then, that sin produced a disruption in God's order of male headship and female submission, in which a) the woman would be inclined now to usurp the man's rightful place of authority over her, and man may be required, in response, to reestablish his God-given rulership over the woman, and b) the man would be inclined to misuse his rights of rulership, either by sinful abdication of his God-given authority, acquiescing to the woman's desire to rule over him (and so fail to lead as he should), or by abusing his rights to rule through harsh, cruel and exploitative domination of the woman.
4. 1 Cor. 11:1-16 - As already noted, Paul uses Gen. 2 to support his contention that women need to display, in the church, their submission to male leadership. The woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head (11:10), because she is the glory of man (11:7), because she originated from man (11:8), and because she was created for the man's sake (11:9). Because Paul links the woman's submissive role in the Church to God's created design, it is evident that these instructions to the church at Corinth are not applicable only there, but instead are applicable universally in the Church.
5. 1 Cor. 14:34-36 - Clearly this prohibition on women speaking cannot be absolute, for Paul previously acknowledged women prophesying (1 Cor. 11:5). What complementarians hold on this, though, is usually one of two positions: either that women may never be involved in an official capacity of teaching the corporate assembly, presumably with men present, or that women may not function in the elder role of judging prophecies (a la Grudem, Carson). In either case, what is clear is the principle that women are to display their submission to male headship and learn quietly from those (qualified males only) responsible for the teaching ministry of the church.
6. 1 Tim. 2:8-15 - Again here, Paul links his command that women receive instruction with submissiveness rather than teaching or exercising authority over men (2:11-12) with God's created design for man and woman. Women are to submit to male leadership and teaching because Adam was created first (2:13), and because Eve was deceived and sinned first (2:14). And again, it is evident that these instructions can only rightly be seen as universally applicable for the Church, because the basis for them is God's created design.
7. Eph. 5:22-33 - Wives are to be subject to their husbands in response to their submission to the Lordship of Christ (5:22). The reason for this, says Paul, is that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church (5:23). The next verse makes the matter even more explicit: "as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives to their husbands in everything" (5:24). The key notion here is the parallel of the headship of the husband with the headship of Christ. As the Church submits to Christ as the one who has rightful authority over her, so the wife is to submit to her husband as the one who has rightful authority over her. Husbands, for their part, are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church (5:25-29). When husbands truly love their wives and wives submit to their husbands, we see the sinful distortion of the male female relationship defeated and a return, then, to what God intended in his creation of man and woman.
8. 1 Pet. 3:7a - While the second half of this verse stresses the equal honor accorded to women along with men (as fellow-heirs of the grace of life), the first half of the verse clearly indicates the fundamental gender difference between a husband and his wife. She, according to Peter, is a "weaker vessel," and she needs to be treated with tenderness and understanding as such. This implies that 1) while she is fully equal in essence (3:7b), she likewise is constitutionally different from him as a woman (3:7a), and 2) the husband bears particular God-sanctioned responsibility to care for his wife, indicating his leadership and primary responsibility in their relationship.
9. Trinitarian Analogy - Complementarians understand the Trinity to present an analogy to the male/female relationship, as God designed it. God is one in essence and three in persons. The three persons of the God-head are absolutely equal in essence (in fact, they each share fully, simultaneously and without division the one divine essence), but they are distinct in function. Specifically, their distinction of function is marked by an intrinsic relation of authority within the God-head, by which the Son is subject to the Father, and the Spirit to the Son. 1 Cor. 11:3 states part of this: "God is the head of Christ." The clearest biblical example of Christ's subjection to the Father is in 1 Cor. 15:28 where the exalted and victorious Son "will also be subject to the One who subjected all things to Him." Given this understanding of the Trinity, it makes sense for Paul to say what He does in 1 Cor. 11:3. He speaks here of three authority lines that exist: Christ is the authority (head) over every man, man is the authority (head) over a woman, and God (the Father) is authority (head) over Christ. Just as the persons of God are equal in essence and yet they relate within a structure of lines of authority, so too men and women are equal in essence while relating within a similar structure of lines of authority.
C. Biblical Examples of Male/Female Role Differentiation
Despite the fact that sin has produced in woman an illegitimate desire to usurp the rightful authority God gave to man (Gen. 3:16), God has worked in Israel and in the Church to establish male-headship as the consistent and approved pattern for religious and home life.
1. Male leadership in IsraelFrom the Garden of Eden on, God has called out men and held men responsible for religious leadership. Think of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the 12 sons of Jacob as heads of the 12 tribes of Israel, Moses, Joshua, David, the male priestly order, the prophets to Israel and Judah, etc. Clearly, God purposely called out and intended to work through male leadership in Israel.
2. Male leadership with ChristClearly Jesus was not at all averse to challenging customs and traditions of men which ran contrary to the values of the kingdom of God. He lacked no courage to challenge humanly fabricated restrictions upon the wise and good purposes of God (e.g., Matt. 15:3-9; 23:1-36). And his taking of women with him during his itinerant ministry testifies to this. But what Jesus never did, though He clearly could have and was not constrained by social convention not so to do, is to choose any women to be among the twelve. His choice of 12 men continues the pattern we observe in the OT, of distinguishing a certain level of spiritual leadership as gender-restrictive.
3. Male leadership in the ChurchAs observed above, Paul explicitly restricts women from a certain level of spiritual leadership and instruction in the Church. 1 Cor. 11:1-16, 1 Cor. 14:34-36, and 1 Tim. 2:8-15 consistently require that the church's ultimate human spiritual leadership be gender-restrictive. This is reinforced by qualifications for the position of eldership which requires that one be "the husband of one wife" (see 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:6), obviously indicating that only qualified men may serve as elders.
4. Male leadership in the homeEph. 5:22-33, Col. 3:18-20, and 1 Pet. 3:1-7 each establishes the correctness of male-leadership in the home. The passage in 1 Peter is instructive in a particular way not described above. Here Peter envisions situations where a believing wife is married to an unbelieving husband. One might expect Peter to say to the wife, "because you know Christ and your husband doesn't, you need to take over the leadership in your home. Don't leave the leadership up to your husband, because he won't lead your home in a Christ-like manner." But, to the contrary, Peter says even to these believing wives of unbelieving husbands, "be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives."
III. Objections to the Complementarian Position and Responses
A. Objection: This complementarian understanding is in reality a fully hierarchical view, with women subordinate to men, and as such it is intolerable and contrary to the freedom of the gospel. While it claims to uphold the essential equality of women with men, it in fact leads inevitably to seeing women as inferior, as second-class citizens, who are not as important to God and His purposes as are men.
Response: Would you feel the same way about a parent/child relationship? Or of the relationship between an employee and his/her supervisor? Do you believe we should eliminate all manifestations of relational hierarchy, as demeaning to those under the authority of another? Relationships within authority structures surround us. We live and work in them every day. We would have utter chaos without them. But such authority structures do not entail the greater human value or essential superiority of those in charge, or minimize the human value or imply the essential inferiority of those under their charge. Furthermore, if we are correct to think of the Trinity as analogous to the male/female relationship, consider this: surely the Scriptures do not intend to suggest Christ is inferior in value to the Father because He came only to do His Father's will. Likewise, the Scriptures do not intend to suggest that women are inferior to men because of male-headship. In fact, just the opposite is true, viz., men and women only experience their full humanity when they function in the manner God intended in His creation of them. We are most free as humans when we affirm the legitimate authority structure God intended, and work within that.
B. Objection: Your interpretation of Gen. 2, by which you see three indicators of male authority, is wrong. What difference does it make whom God created first? He had to create one or the other first, and it just happened to be Adam. Furthermore, remember God created animals before creating human beings, but this certainly does not indicate an animal priority over humans. And, yes, the woman was created to complete the man, but this speaks of her equality with him, not her subordination to him. Remember, God is our helper. Is He subordinate to us? And the fact that he named Eve is no proof of his authority over her. Women in Israel often name their sons, but does this, then, that females (mothers) are authority over males (sons)?
Response: Were it not for the fact that Paul understood Gen. 2 as the complementarian does, your objections might have some force. But it is Paul who observes the importance of Adam's creation first, and Paul who notes Eve was created for Adam's sake. Therefore, the complementarian stands with Scripture's interpretation of itself on this issue. The one point Paul does not address is Adam's naming of Eve. The support for this rests, then, entirely on the significance of naming in ancient near-eastern culture. Yes, a mother's naming a son shows, in part, her authority over him - until he leaves home. And remember, although animals were created before Adam, Adam was told to name the animals and this clearly indicates his headship over them. It seems best, then, in light both of cultural considerations and Paul's understanding of Gen. 2, to sustain these three points as legitimate interpretations of the male/female relationship at creation.
C. Objection: Gen. 3:16 says nothing about Eve ruling Adam, but it speaks explicitly to Adam ruling Eve. You have twisted the clear meaning of this text. Sin effected in Adam an illegitimate desire to dominate his wife, despite her continued longing for equal companionship.
Response: The two major problems with the egalitarian view here are: 1) Explaining Eve's desire as a positive or caring desire fails to account for the fact that this is part of the curse on Eve. Certainly God would not give to her the curse of caring for Adam. Rather, her desire, because it is connected with what sin has done to her, is best understood as a negative, wrongful one. 2) But if her desire is negative, then, it accords exactly with sin's desire in Gen. 4:7, i.e., a desire to usurp rulership. This, coupled with the identical sentence structure and parallel terminology between the two passages, and their close proximity to each other, leads the complementarians to their conclusion on this important text.
D. Objection: You have left out the many and significant examples of female leadership in Israel, in the gospels, and in the early church. It simply is not correct to say that the Bible exhibits a uniform pattern of religious male leadership.
Response: Yes, women do play significant religious, and at times leadership, roles throughout the Bible. But consider two things: 1) Most of the examples of female leadership appear in roles other than those of highest human religious authority. That is, there are some prophetesses and female teachers in Old and New Testaments, but where are there any women priests, women heads of tribes of Israel, women kings of Israel (Athaliah wrongly usurped the throne), women apostles (Junia of Rom. 16:7 is highly disputed), women elders in the early church? The point is that at the level of highest human religious authority, the Bible gives a clear and uniform picture of male leadership. 2) The most notable apparent exception to the above is Deborah (Judg. 4-5), who was both prophetess and judge of Israel. Given the spiritual state of Israel at the time, most see Judges not as illustrating well God's ideal for His people. Quite probably, then, Deborah's judgeship demonstrates, not how God endorses female leadership, but rather just how far from God's design and purposes Israel had strayed. In any case, it is difficult to accept the case of Deborah as normative, in light of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
E. Objection: Your use of "male headship" and your reference to passages like 1 Cor. 11:3 and Eph. 5:23 where "head" (kephale) is used, does not recognize the meaning of this term as "source." Understood this way, the Bible does not envision man as authority over woman, but source of her, since Eve came from Adam.
Response: For lexical and exegetical reasons, this understanding of kephale is completely unacceptable. The strongest lexical evidence suggests that while kephale is sometimes used of impersonal objects to mean "source" (e.g., the "head", i.e., "source" of a river) its predominate, if not exclusive, use as it relates to human beings is as "authority over," not "source." Exegetically, it becomes difficult to understand how Paul could mean anything other than "authority over" in particular passages. Eph. 5:23, for example ("the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church") is followed in v. 24 with this statement, "as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything." Here, then, subjection of wives to their husbands is linked with the husband being head of his wife. Likewise in 1 Cor. 11:3 ("Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ"), it seems impossible to take kephale as "source," for to do so requires that God be the source of Christ as Adam is the source of Eve and Christ is the source of man. But did Christ ever originate from the Father as both man and woman originated? Furthermore, the following context of this verse clearly deals with woman wearing head covering "as a symbol of authority" (11:10). Therefore, for lexical, exegetical and contextual reasons, it appears clearly best to understand male "headship" as denoting male authority in the home and the church.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Roll Tide Roll!!!

2 Weeks ago the boys were invited to attend a "Big Al Kid's Club Event" at Bryant-Denny Stadium. They were allowed to roam through the awesome locker room, play on the field and have their pictures made in some very memorable and typically off-limits the 50 yard line. I would post tons of the pictures on this blog but my wife beat me to it so here is the link to her blog. Check it out...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Church Specifics

Lately my community has been discussing the form and function of "church". We come from various backgrounds with numerous experiences and all of that leads to preferences and those aren't a bad thing. However, when people confuse their preference or even their traditional experiences with God's will or God's effect "Christianizing" their preferences or opinions it becomes rather divisive and dysfunctional. Such an event happened this week when a guest to the group became overly assertive over an issue. Listing my preferences here wouldn't help this move ahead so I will simply list some observations compiled by Frank Viola regarding what the churches in the Bible did.

They met regularly in homes. Acts 20:20, Romans 16:3, I Cor 16:19

They took communion as a full meal. I Cor 11:21-34

Their church gatherings were open and participatory. I Cor 14:26, Hebrews 10:24-25

Spiritual Gifts were employed by each member. I Cor 12-14

They genuinely saw themselves as family and acted accordingly. Galatians 6:10, I Timothy 5:1-2, Romans 12:5, Ephesians 4:15, Romans 12:13, 2 Cor 8:12-15

They had a plurality of elders to oversee the community. Acts 20:17, I Timothy 1:5-7

They were established and aided by itinerant apostolic workers. Acts 13-21 and all of the Apostolic Letters

They were united and did not denominate themselves into separate organizations within the city. Acts 8:1, Acts 13:1, Acts 18:22, Romans 16:1, Thess 1:1

They did not use honorific titles. Matthew 23:8-12

They did not organize themselves hierarchically. Matthew 20:25-28, Luke 22:25-26

My PREFERENCE would be that the idea of church return to these rather organic roots and completely abandon the more institutional model...I guess the real question for any community of believers is how God may be moving them in their gatherings.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Egalitarianism or Complementarianism

The following is my reply to my community regarding a discussion we had last night regarding women being submissive to men and exactly what we are to do with the whole issue of "women's roles".

I think the debate and questions we were discussing last night is difficult at best. I don’t think it is difficult from a standpoint of “Biblical Authority”. I think we all believe the Bible is profitable for teaching, training and edification...among other things (2 Tim 3). I also think that we are unified in the understanding that the Bible can’t be taken literally in every instance since the Bible is a collection of poetry (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.), private letters (Timothy, Philemon, etc), public letters (Galatians, Ephesians, etc.), books of history (Pentateuch, etc.), etc. For example, the very fact that any female speaks inside the church building and no man openly rebukes her for it is proof that that we don’t take I Corinthians 14 literally when Paul writes:

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

I think this issue becomes difficult because of the ways in which the primary operational definitions have been molested for the purposes of control, domination and other forms of evil. Therefore I think it would be helpful if we establish, through Biblical example and texts what is likely meant by the teaching of the “husband being the head of the wife” and the “wife being required to submit to the husband”.

I like that Melea began in Genesis (which is never a bad place to start). Part of the curse of the fall was indeed that Eve and every woman to follow her would be ruled by their husband. That is found in Genesis 3:
To the woman he said, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

The Hebrew word that we translate into “rule over” is “mashal”. The meaning of that word is not just to reign over, have dominion over and govern over, but this word is one spoken with emphasis. I think it is safe to say that we all have seen evidence on micro and macro levels where this curse has come to pass and in many cases continues on today.
I think this is important because of what Jesus is in relation to the fall of man. More importantly we should ask who Jesus is in relation to the fall. Jesus came to restore everything lost in the fall. The primary thing we typically consider is that we can again be restored to God and His presence for all eternity but the presence of God wasn’t the only thing humanity lost in the fall of man.

We lost the intimacy shared between the male and female. Prior to the fall they were “naked and unashamed”. That was destroyed in the fall and more specifically with the curse of God listed above. That is important because we know that we are cursed from the fall but we also know that we are called, by our lives being firmly rooted in the new reality of the Messiah, to a new life and a new standard. In the kingdom of God, that Jesus proclaimed more often than he discussed love, grace or prayer, the relationship between a man and woman is to exist in a way representative of how things should have always been and will exist again at some point. This lends great weight to the scripture found in Galatians 3:
26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

For those of us who belong to Christ, I believe that we are expected to seek transformation to the point that we no longer see nationalities, races or gender. Not just because it is right to do so, but because we are called to appropriately represent the Kingdom of God. For those who are in the Kingdom of God there is no longer male or female. According to this school of though, the qualifications within the Kingdom of God become not if one a male or female, if one belongs to a particular tribe or if they are a member of the proper religious sect. The lone qualification becomes God’s gifting of individuals and God’s calling on those people.

So what of the verses that would argue a more traditional, complementarian view?
Ephesians 5 does say:
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Additionally I Timothy 2 says:
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

These verses are the core of the Complementarian debate. They seem to place the woman beneath the man and they tend to create a spiritual hierarchy within the Kingdom of God. When considering the curse for the original sin, this seems inconsistent with God. However, just because we think something is inconsistent or doesn’t make sense, we can’t discard it and maintain any kind of integrity.
I do think it is important to consider the context in which we find these verses. I think it is interesting that we prefer the specific verses above at times to prove our position or further substantiate our comfort but we rarely like the verses around them.

The Ephesians 5 passage gets very interesting near the end of the chapter. Paul is notorious for discussing a topic and seemingly going off on a tangent only to draw it back together. He does that in the famous chapter on “love” in I Corinthians 13. Paul is rocking along for 3 chapters (12-14) discussing the “gifts of the Spirit” and seemingly inserts “love” along the way. In reality Paul is actually using the discussion of love in relation to his discussion of gifts. A very similar pattern exists in Ephesians 5 as well. Paul concludes this passage in an interesting, though somewhat predictable way for him, when he says:
He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The structure of that passage doesn’t exactly make sense considering the way we read more contemporary text. However, it is important to remember that the original manuscripts are void of punctuation and what we would consider usual sentence structure.
I think the verse from I Timothy is even more revealing. For the Complementarian Argument to stand up the passage in I Timothy must not in any way be a statement rooted in cultural relevancy. That is to say that it must be immutable and not negotiable based on contemporary values. The verses directly preceding the passage about women learning in quiet submission read like this:
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

I have yet to find the same level of zeal from the more fundamentalist followers of Jesus regarding the aspects of men lifting their hands as they pray, women braiding their hair, women wearing gold/pearls or expensive clothing. Yet if one wants to claim that they are a “Biblical literalist”, each issue can’t be interpreted on what one thinks is appropriate. Obviously, braided hair and certain jewelry were cultural issues during the 1st Century. It seems unreasonable to divorce that cultural relevancy of braided hair and that of women only learning in quiet submission and never teaching a man.

At the end of the day I think it is important to mention, as I attempted to last night, that this is a very applicable discussion and one that has divided churches and families. The fact that remains that those who wish to find substantiation of their positions, be it egalitarian or complementarian, in scripture can do so. I personally think that one way of dealing with this debate seems to more accurately reflect the heart of the God I find elsewhere in scripture than the other way does, but as Melea appropriately references in her email, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Lifespan of Democracy

About the time our original thirteen states adopted their new constitution in 1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh , had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years earlier:

'A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, those nations always progressed through the following sequence:
1. From bondage to spiritual faith;

2. From spiritual faith to great courage;

3. From courage to liberty;

4. From liberty to abundance;

5. From abundance to complacency;

6. From complacency to apathy;

7. From apathy to dependence;

8. From dependence back into bondage'

Professor Joseph Olson of Hemline University School of Law, St. Paul , Minnesota, points out some interesting facts concerning the 2000 Presidential election:

Number of States won by: Democrats: 19 Republicans: 29

Square miles of land won by: Democrats: 580,000 Republicans: 2,427,000

Population of counties won by Democrats: 127 million; Republicans: 143million

Murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won by: Democrats: 13.2 Republicans: 2.1

Professor Olson adds: 'In aggregate, the map of the territory Republican won was mostly the land owned by the taxpaying citizens of this great country. Democrat territory mostly encompassed those citizens living in government-owned tenements and living off various forms of government welfare...'
Olson believes the United States is now somewhere between the 'complacency and apathy' phase of Professor Tyler's definition of democracy, with some forty percent of the nation's population already having reached the 'governmental dependency' phase.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Props to Mr. Culpepper

Life has changed in so many ways over the past three years. Alabama is no longer in the SEC cellar and Auburn is no longer enjoying the view from the top of the SEC. Three years ago Nick Saban was in his first year with the Miami Dolphins and the thought that he would be the next great coach in the storied Alabama tradition would have been laughable. Three years ago it seemed unlikely that Tommy Tubberville would be on the hot seat at Auburn…well, some things do stay the same.
Three years ago, while attending the Alabama-Auburn game at Jordan-Hare stadium in Auburn, my perspective changed and I haven’t viewed the Iron Bowl the same since. While sitting in seats that seem to have fallen into my lap by divine providence after my wife’s prayer for the tickets, the gloom of Auburn’s 3 touchdowns in the first quarter was shattered by the cries of Mrs. Culpepper. Mr. Herman Culpepper was having a heart attack and I found him unconscious and quickly fading. It seemed like an eternity before the EMS services responded, but a nurse and I did CPR on Mr. Culpepper as long as we needed to do so. After several unsuccessful attempts with the defibrillator Mr. Culpepper was taken down the steps and through the tunnel to the waiting ambulance. I prayed in my heart that he would live though my mind didn’t hold out much hope. By halftime of that game I received word that Mr. Culpepper had indeed survived and would be fine after stints were placed. The elation I felt at that moment completely placed that game and sports in general into proper perspective. Life isn’t about events, it is about people.
I spoke to the Culpeppers several times after that day and the story we share even made headlines in several newspapers and one national publication. I had the honor of speaking with Mr. Culpepper again today and I am pleased to report that he is doing just fine. In fact, the man that Mr. Culpepper is today continues to serve as an inspiration to me and so many others. Mr. Culpepper wasn’t exactly wasting his life prior to three years ago. The devoted husband, father and grandfather was most pleased after his last heart attack that he would be able to spend more time with his family. For him, life wasn’t about finances, schedules or politics. Life is only lived to the fullest when it is spent in devotion to impacting the lives of others.
Mr. Culpepper told me today about what is going on in his life. Not surprisingly, he spoke about his family first. He said, “I have been able to spend time with my grandchildren and discuss the Lord with them”. He went on to mention that he is a Sunday School teacher and continues to be very active in his church. He also serves disabled veterans that return from Iraq and Afghanistan and helps them find purpose and direction in their lives. As Mr. Culpepper talked I couldn’t help but smile. Few things are more encouraging and uplifting than people loving and serving others. Mr. Culpepper and I discussed on so many occasions before, and again today, that God has a reason for him to still be here. In fact God has a reason for us all to be here. Mr. Culpepper is a shining example of living out that purpose to the fullest. His example becomes more inspiring as I realize he does it all with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for life itself.
Mr. Culpepper thanked me today, as he has each time we have talked, but I couldn’t let it go at that. I thanked him too. For serving others, for putting his family first and for living each day with great purpose. He said, “You and God have given me three more years on this earth”. In fairness I think he is being way too kind. The life that was given by God alone is sustained by God alone and Mr. Culpepper seems content to celebrate that fact daily.
The Iron Bowl this year has changed as Alabama is expected to win for the first time in years. With Auburn’s success the past six years that is certainly a welcomed change for Bama Fans. If I can find some reasonably priced tickets for the Iron Bowl, I will be watching the game this year from the stands for the first time since the day Mr. Culpepper was given a new lease on life. While I will be pulling for Alabama as hard as ever, I will be doing so with Mr. Culpepper in mind. The Iron Bowl is discussed all year in this state and athletic success of coaches and programs are often determined by the results of this game. Mr. Culpepper serves as an example to us all that real success in life is determined what happens off the field, out of our offices and in so many ways, what happens outside of our own lives. Life is about the people we love and those who extend that love in return. Here’s to Mr. Culpepper for showing us all how that looks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tongues and History

This past Sunday night in our small group (Church, for those of you not in the know) we began discussing charismatic gifts and their modern day existence. In a follow up email a buddy of mine asked why these gifts seem to disappear shortly after the death of Christ and not really show up in any written account until the 19th century. Below you can find my reply. Let me preface the reply by saying that I am shooting from the hip on this one...hoping my memory of previous study serves me well. Enjoy:

I would say that many reasons exist for why things such as speaking in tongues were not written. Christians were increasingly persecuted beginning even in Acts when the followers of Jesus fled to various cities and areas. Once being a christian or gathering as christians became crimes punished typically by death, I can't imagine many people would be willing to write about manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, once Constantine beat Maxentius on the Mulvian Bridge under the sign of Chi Rho (a cool story for another day), the persecution of christians the traditional form anyway. However, for the first time in the brief history of christendom, the church was "official" Blake's world I would call it "institutionalized". Constantine gave churches land grants and for the first time in history, a second class of humans were established within churches...leaving us, almost 1700 years later with pastors (or pick your choice label for paid leadership within a church) and lay people. Of interest, Constantine also gave the clergy Roman Senatorial Robes which became our modern day choir robes...and some denominations still have the paid leader person preach or perform communion in robes. Anyway, all of that is important because of the ecclesiastical subjugation to government. Once the elite, popular and wealthy of Rome began to flock to the new fad of christianity the more spiritual practices of the faith would understandably percentages anyway. Those who kept a more pure form of faith would have not been published nor would they likely have been willing to write of their experiences for fear of ridicule, demotion or some other form of embarrassment. With things like the Nicene Creed and the Edict of Milan being written by those in power, testimonies of tongues, healings and prophesy would be limited or grossly overlooked.
If we fast forward through the Middle Ages we pass through over 1000 years of Catholic controlled ecclesiology that extends well into the period of Protestant Reformation. For example, people like Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon were imprisoned even in the late 17th century by the Catholic Church for "Mysticism". Her form of mysticism was simply teaching people that the Spirit of God could live in them, guide them and even communicate with them supernaturally without the help or blessing of the "church". Strangely enough I still proclaim the same thing today and am sometimes met with similar skepticism...but I digress. That isn't really an environment to be too vocal or public with something like speaking in tongues.
Now with all of that said, it is important to note that even Plato mentioned what many consider to be "speaking in tongues" with the mention in some of his writings of "ecstatic speech". So obviously, charismatic gifts showing up in written form are not the gold standard of their existence or of their foundation being always rooted in God.
However, it is important to note that writings do exist indicating the practice of charismatic gifts. Origen, Tertullian, Athenogoras and Eusidius all mention these out-pourings of the Holy Spirit. The Schleitheim Groups founded in the mid 16th century were known for "waiting on the spirit of the Lord" and wait they would. If needed, they would wait in silence for days until the "Spirit" would show up in the form of charismatic gifts.

I say ALL of that to say that we can't really speak accurately about charismatic gifts being something that were and then took a break and now may be back again. I think that kind of reasoning, in addition to being historically inaccurate, is designed to cast immediate skepticism on the existence and practice of these gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we can effectively remove this argument based on their historicity, perhaps we can more clearly seek to understand what God intends for us in our present walk with Him. That is the goal after least I think it is.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monk Brawl 2008

So yesterday was Sunday. Sunday is seen by many Christians to be a "Holy Day". So in Israel yesterday two opposing religious groups did what any self-respecting groups would do on the "Holy Day"....fight like hell!!!

The clash between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks broke out in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.The brawling began during a procession of Armenian clergymen commemorating the 4th-century discovery of the cross believed to have been used to crucify Jesus.The Greeks objected to the march without one of their monks present, fearing that otherwise, the procession would subvert their own claim to the Edicule — the ancient structure built on what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus — and give the Armenians a claim to the site.

I think there is a hidden gem in that last paragraph...the Greek Monks FEARED...THE PROCESSION WOULD SUBVERT THEIR OWN CLAIM. It seems that these two rather ancient groups have passed on a few things to our modern religious sad.

Kind of like a grown man peeing his pants, the video of "Monk Brawl 2008" is as equally funny and strange. To see otherwise religious people, wearing religious clothes fighting like a bunch of drunk rednecks reminds me of Jesus' labeling of the Pharisees. He said they were like a white-washed tomb...pretty to look at but dead inside. What happens in Israel, between two groups barely even recognized in the Bible Belt of America seems irrelevant and far removed...but are we really any different?

I mean, how often do we or have we gotten dressed up, called ourselves doing something religious only to have horrible attitudes, rotten behavior and ungodly actions? It is easy to spot Monks fighting in a "Holy Place" but it is much more difficult to spot the rotten and often hidden, dark corners in our own world. I pray that you will join me in using the events of the Monk Brawl as a mirror to make sure we aren't all being equally absurd.

And if I may add one last thing...based on the video, Monks fight like wounded girl scouts...pretty angry and vicious but very few wild swings actually make contact and they don't seem to hurt very badly when they do. If you are going to pick a fight with your cross-town rival Monk Gang, you better be able to back it up...otherwise you end up on looking like a sissy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Revolutions Winning

Now that we as a country have a new leader waiting in the wings I wonder if the new regime will deliver on the promises they were so eager to offer in the previous year. Regardless of your political ideas, most people agree that the movement behind Obama has been almost in line with something religious. With that said, I wonder more than ever what happens when the movement or revolution for change enjoys a seat of power? The following quote is from Erwin McManus and I think he asks some appropriate questions about revolutionaries becoming "winners" and churches in general. Enjoy.

"Nothing is more dangerous to a revolution than winning. When a revolution wins, it must face the prospect of becoming an institution. No better example of this exists than when Constantine began mandating national baptisms. Christianity changed from a movement to an institution, from a global revolution to a world religion. You could now become a Christian without ever having met Jesus Christ personally. This was a bad thing-like keeping the shell and tossing the egg.
The irony in this is that the force of Christianity first changed the Roman world and then relinquished its power in the name of accommodation. It’s easy to see the difference between Christianity as a religion and Christianity as a revolution when we look back to the days of Constantine and the Dark Ages that followed. It’s more difficult to see that difference in our contemporary environment because we are standing in the middle of it. Our great awakenings were born through men and women who could see that the church had lost her way. They led the church back to the third day: from death to resurrection. They called God’s people out of the apathetic to the passionate.
Real, sustainable change occurs when actions are in response to values. For too long we have focused on making sure people believe the right things and have left their concerns alone. I know it may sound like heresy, but it is more important to change what people care about than to change what they believe! You can believe without caring, but you can’t care without believing. We cannot afford to fill our churches with members who have biblical beliefs and worldly concerns. When we awaken the apostolic ethos, the heart of God begins to pulsate throughout the church of Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is to be a moving experience!"

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bass Ackwards

If ever I got things backwards or out of order, my dad would say, "that's bass ackwards"...the implication obviously being that my actions or plans went against a normal or expected sequence of events. This past Sunday I think my wife and I were bass ackwards but in a good way.

Don't gasp or faint but I actually went and sat through an entire institutionalized church service. We didn't go to just any "church" either...we went to the largest church in the state of Alabama. Just this one worship time has cars backed up on the interstate and parking reminded me more of a sporting event than a place where believers of God were gathering to enrich their walks with God. We entered near the kids wing of the monstrous building and checked them in to the computerized security system and eventually found their class rooms and handed their teachers the digital printout explaining their names, DOB, potty training status...I think I saw blood type, previous medical information and mother's maiden name listed somewhere on the form. From there we walked past the in-house Starbucks...I kid you not, into the stadium-I mean auditorium. A band that looked more like a Pearl Jam setup than David with his harp was entertaining everyone and fortunately one of our friends found us and lead us to our seats in section J, row 43, seats 11 and 12.
Finally the super-pastor emerged under the sparkles of the spotlight...his incredibly white teeth momentarily blinded me when the spotlight bounced off of them and maybe burned my retina. And then the whole reason we were there happened. A family in our small-group had invited us to the dedication of their one year old.

The night before I was left with a dilemma...attend the antithesis of almost everything I hold dear within the kingdom of God and honor our brother and sister in the Lord or take a stand, not attend this mega-church and possibly offend our friends. As much as I didn't want to go I knew from the beginning that we were required to model what Jesus taught. Relationships always trump personal preference...people always win out over comfort.

So what is so bass ackwards about that whole scenario? I hear so many people say that they attend church to find a community. I think so many think that church is where faith happens and you foster relationships there that hopefully carry over into our everyday lives. Well, for us it is the other way around. We have "community" and we simply attended this church to deepen our relationships...not to find them. We went to this place not to get closer to God but to get closer to people who walk with us in our journey toward God. To many that may seem bass ackwards from the me, I just call it a new direction within the Kingdom of God as I experience it.

So was it worth it? Would I ever go back to that place again under similar circumstances? When it comes to honoring our fellow travelers on this spiritual journey and when it comes to fostering deeper relationships within what I consider our church...absolutely, I will go every time I am asked to do that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beati Pauperes Spiritu or Beati Possidentes

In the Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament text, Jesus himself says in Matthew 5:3, “beati pauperes spiritu” or “Blessed in spirit are the poor”. The modern church doesn’t typically reflect those sentiments, in effect, creating even more separation between Jesus and “His Bride”.

More often than not, the modern church has forgotten “beati pauperes spiritu” and in its place adopted, “beati possidentes”, or “blessed are those who possess”. The widow with a mite is no longer the standard of giving for the followers of Jesus. Read carefully the verses regarding the widow in Mark 12. This time, in what will probably be a new context for many of you:
38As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, 39and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."
41Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
43Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t begin with a warning about demons or possessed people. However, Jesus does indeed issue a warning, “Watch out for the teachers of the law”. Jesus then describes what these dangerous teachers of law will do. According to the Messiah, the teachers will enjoy walking around as people of status, they will enjoy the popularity and honor others bestow on them, they will make their religion very “showy”-for the benefit of others seeing them and therefore propping up their status and credibility from a social perspective. But for our specific purpose today another description of the dangerous teachers of the law is “they devour widows’ houses”.

The idea of devouring a widow is not to literally consume them but rather to rob them, take all they have, strip them of what little remains in the midst of their loneliness. One Bible translation reads, “But they cheat widows out of their homes” (CEV). I think that is very accurate and even further sets up what is about to happen in this scene. Imagine this pompous man of religion that is wealthy, probably through less than ethical means, respected and morally bankrupt. Instead of “look(ing) after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27) and in so doing practice what the Bible labels “pure and undefiled religion” these men will look at women in need and use their vulnerability against them. Obviously, anyone that would take someone who is weak and exploit them is beyond immoral. As such, Mark 12 says these people will be sentenced to a very harsh punishment.
After describing what the dangerous teachers of the law would do, Jesus sits down and simply watches as people place their offerings in the treasury. It is as though mankind has become so predictably evil and parasitic, especially in religious circles, that Jesus turns around to those he was teaching and with a wink and a smile said, “watch this”. Not too long after explaining what happens in religious settings, particularly when it involves money, Jesus has the opportunity to elbow a disciple in the ribs as he smiles and says, “I told you”. What did he tell them and more importantly for us, what is he still saying to us?

“Many rich people threw in large amounts” is a statement that says a few things without actually saying them. For example, if people were giving in the fashion they should, no one would be able to say who gave more. The fact that the text quantifies the number of people and the amount they gave indicates that maybe there was a bit of the religious positioning going on. Maybe a relatively rich person makes sure others are aware that he put in a large sum and he feels good about it, until someone with more wealth trumps him with an even larger amount. This routine could go on for a while and many of the people involved in the financial wrangling in the house of God probably did notice the poor widow that made sure her gift went unnoticed. The last thing people want to do is draw attention to the issues in their life that are lacking or insignificant. The only person present that matter noticed the widow, and that is all that mattered.
Jesus had just spoken about dangerous teachers of the law robbing from widows and now both the religious status seekers and the widow have proven his point. While the religious are jockeying for position, the widow quietly “gives out of her poverty”. These men, thinking they have done something spectacular, have been upstaged in the eyes of God by a widow. The widows were usually just prey for these kinds of people, but not in this case, not in the eyes of God. This woman understood that the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with what one brings to the table, it has nothing to do with show and it has nothing to do with contributions. God doesn’t need money, after all, He owns the cattle on a thousand hilltops (Psalm 50). What God desires is exactly what this widow gives…everything. She obviously knew that she didn’t have enough to compete with the “religious”, but it wasn’t about competition, it was about complete surrender. The widow wasn’t able to fund a ministry, but it wasn’t about funding a ministry, it was about a sincere spirit. The widow couldn’t buy status or credibility with her offering, but it wasn’t about status or credibility, it was about obedience in the face of arrogance. In stark contrast to the religious, stands the righteous and Jesus reveals the heart of the Father by saying who gave more and who’s sacrifice was more pleasing to Him. It wasn’t about the amount, it was about the heart.

Unfortunately, this story and this lesson are largely forgotten in your average church today. Want proof? Show me a church with a finance committee, accounting committee or something similar and I will show you people that handle money well, enjoy an above average lifestyle, an above average income and are likely to be wealthy
relative to the other members of the church. I personally have never been to a church, nor has anyone I know, that had a bankrupt individual on the finances committee. Though exceptions always exist, you are not likely to see someone serve on a finance committee that also needs help from the benevolence fund from time to time.

The typical excuse given for why people are given charge of finances at any given church is because they have proven in life to be a “good steward”. While I have often heard that we are called to be “good stewards” in the midst of sermons and classes regarding finances, I can’t find the same amount of attention paid to financial stewardship in scripture. Make no mistake, we are call to be good stewards. Let’s look at the ways in which the Bible calls us to good stewardship:

I Peter 4: as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (Grace)
Titus 1: as the steward of God (Leadership)
I Corinthians 4: stewards of the mysteries of God. (Representing God)
Luke 12: Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household (Leadership)

The other Biblical references to being a steward or stewardship in general is simply as a title or an administrative role one may fulfill. While I think we can certainly say that financial responsibility is a good thing and even a God thing, I don’t think we can omit the poor widow that served as an example for Jesus to teach his followers some 2000 years ago. Maybe Jesus still wants to use her example to teach his followers today.

Are power structures in the typical church dictated by finances? I would argue that generally speaking, churches do exactly what Jesus says the dangerous teachers of the law did and exactly what we are warned not to do again in James 2 by showing favoritism.
James 2: “1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the one who is poor, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? 8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

Lest we forget brilliant and emancipating aspects of the Kingdom of God is that the last is first, the broken made whole, the lacking is made sufficient, the blind see and the lame walk (Luke 7). Sadly the Kingdom is often portrayed to the world by church attendees in the areas of finances and power as being no different than the world. All too often, the attractive, wealthy, talented and gifted fill the roles within the leadership hierarchy and the major decisions are made, directly or indirectly by those who wield the funds. Can it be that the Golden Rule of Jesus has been traded for the Golden Rule of the world…”those who have the gold make the rules”?

So what about wealth? Often the Bible is misquoted when people declare with the best intentions, “money is the root of all evil”. Actually it is the “love of money” which is that root. Many rationalize wealth by pointing out all the “blessings” Solomon had or all the possessions Abraham or David enjoyed. While certainly God bestowed some people in the Bible with abundance in those areas, this in no way negates the words of Jesus in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

What if Jesus is serious about that?