“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you. Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:1-3)
Have you wondered how people who have been saved by grace choose to abandon their freedom in Christ and begin to follow rules and regulations that are based on nothing more than human commands and teachings? Well, one reason is that the self-serving people who teach these man-made doctrines use a clever strategy. They combine traditional biases with “biblical” words. They then point to passages that use these words in order to prove that their biases are true. Then they repeat the process with another term. Alternative interpretations of the passages, even when the alternatives are widely agreed on by most Bible scholars, are simple ignored. If you listen to them, they lead you to believe that their interpretation is the only one. Then they expound on the implications of what they have presented. Bit by bit, one false assumption leads to another, and another, until . . . you have been bewitched!
This approach to Scripture is very similar to the approach that was used to “prove” that slavery was “part of God’s design.” And over the last few years, certain groups have used this approach to promote a number of false doctrines. Some are saying that the Bible allows only men to have authority in the church and in society. They claim that the husband is the spiritual “covering” (a term that was popularized during the spiritually damaging and now discredited “Shepherding” movement) over his wife. The pastor is the “covering” over all the men. If a woman is single, the pastor is her “covering”. And if a woman’s husband disagrees with the pastor, then the pastor is the “covering” for the wife!! Therefore, they say, men hear from God and women hear from men. Some say that women should never work away from the home and that women should be subject to their husbands even if the husband is abusive. Others teach that only husbands should handle finances and make financial decisions (of course, they say a man has the right to discuss things with his wife if he wants to - as long as he makes the decision.) The proponents of these ideas claim that the rules they espouse are mandated by the Bible. They use of proofs texts to strain out gnats to support their man-made doctrines while ignoring the weightier truths of the Gospel.
The errors being taught are easily disputed! There are excellent books that use the whole teaching of the Gospel and clearly show that Jesus and the first century Christian leaders taught the equality of women and men. There are writings that carefully and honestly refute erroneous interpretations of the isolated biblical passages that are used to subjugate women. The authors delve into the meanings of the Greek and Hebrew terms. They present first century cultural and historical information to show how the passages should actually be interpreted. Some authors examine the Hebrew Scriptures and identify the shadows and foretelling of freedom for women that was bought by Jesus on the cross. Other authors trace the history of women in the church to illustrate how their freedom in Christ was taken from them while illustrating what the Holy Spirit was able to accomplish through them in spite of their oppression. Still others have offered information regarding Biblical examples and instructions regarding the relationships between men and women. However, despite the evidence these authors present, despite the clear reasoning, despite the scholarship, despite the excellent scriptural exegesis, despite the analysis in the original language, despite the historical research, God’s children are still being distracted from their kingdom missions by those who preach a gospel other than the one preached by the first apostles.
I’ve prayed about this, asking God over and over, “How can people who seem to be Christian believe and teach such unbiblical, unloving, and potentially damaging things?” How can people who have found freedom, because Jesus Christ has set them free, allow themselves to be burdened again by this yoke of slavery? The Holy Spirit has helped me to see that many Christians don’t really understand the revolutionary, radical, amazing, life-renewing, awe-inspiring power of the cross. Many don’t really grasp who Jesus Christ is, or how wide and long and high and deep His love is.
Throughout the centuries, there have been people who have worked to distract and misdirect God’s children with slavish requirements (“You must be circumcised!”) and rules (“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”) And since the beginning there have been those who wonder how, why, their sisters and brothers in Christ sometimes listen to these teachings. “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belong to it, do you submit to its rules?” (Colossians 3:20)
Most of the things the “biblical manhood/womanhood” teachers are promoting do NOT matter. These things are NOT taught by Jesus or the apostles. How many times do we need to remind ourselves “… by grace you have been saved through faith – but that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8) When will we truly understand that these things are NOT the point! “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6b)
If we fail to see the “big picture” it can be difficult to understand the specifics. We must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. We must read the Bible in the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit. When we do this, we begin to understand that God’s love for us is the reason for our creation. His love is the reason for His continued pursuit of humanity in the face of our rebellion. His love is the reason for the Incarnation, for the Cross, for the Resurrection, and for Pentecost. Before we look at different viewpoints and interpretations, it is important to understand God’s relationship with humanity – the love of the Father, our salvation through the Son, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Christian story, and the Gospel message. Those who were at Pentecost (and later Paul and others) had already proclaimed the Gospel to the Christians who received their letters. The letters need to be understood in light of the message of salvation through grace by faith.
When we understand, accept, internalize, and live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we begin to focus our attention on Jesus, the Word who was God. Who being in very nature God, made Himself nothing and became human and pitched his tent among us. He came to save us from our sin and to reconcile us to Himself and to each other through His death on the cross and through His resurrection.
It is important for Christians to remember that the instructions, rebukes, encouragements, and lessons that Paul, James, Peter, John, Jude, and the author of Hebrews wrote in their letters were written to Christians, to people who had already heard the Gospel and who had dedicated their lives to living as citizens of the Kingdom of God. These “epistle” writers expected their readers to interpret what they were writing in the context of the complete Gospel message.
I believe that the best way to protect ourselves against false doctrine is to truly understand and internalize the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The wiles of the enemy will not work with someone who really understands who she or he is in Christ. In future entries I’ll attempt to explain at least a tiny bit of the reality-altering miracle that occurred when The Word who was God came to earth, died on the cross, and rose from the dead. I’ll try to describe the radically amazing opportunity that He, through His life, death and resurrection, offers to those who choose to be part of the reality shift He initiated (the Kingdom of God), a reality shift that brings eternal life. I will say again what has already been made so many times in Scripture, that requiring circumcision, making rules about what you can eat or touch, defining gender roles, and engaging in other “works based” attempts to please God are foolish nonsense in God’s Kingdom. They ARE NOT THE POINT! Even worse, they are distractions from the freedom we find in the “good works which God prepared for us that we may walk in them.”