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Thursday, April 11 2013

“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.”

Posted by: Michelle AT 07:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email
Saturday, March 09 2013

Recently, a local city-wide evangelical group sent out an email announcing an upcoming simulcast that promises to “unpack what biblical manhood looks like.”  The organization promoting this event is one of several who claim that the decline in morals in our culture has been caused by a failure of men and women to follow so called “biblical” roles.  I recently spoke with a small group of leaders and members of our local evangelical group and asked them to be prayerful, discerning and cautious with these ideas.  I reminded my colleagues that role playing distracts men and women from fulfilling their God-ordained purposes for their lives. Furthermore, in some instances, this training has been the cause of marital conflict, confusion, and even divorce.

The following paragraphs reflect my part of the discussion.

If people are supposed to spend their lives playing roles, wouldn’t Jesus have described these roles?  But we are not called to play roles in marriage; we are called to love one another.  Clearly men and women have natural differences.  God matches husbands and wives and gives them specific gifts and talents so that, together, they can more effectively follow Him. Just as every individual is uniquely created by God, every marriage relationship is unique. The way my husband and I relate to each other differs from the way any other couple will relate. This is how God designed it.

Much of the training in the “proper roles of men and women” is presented through local congregations. When a teaching like this comes into a congregation, couples in leadership are encouraged to be among the first to participate.  Christian couples who have been relating to each other based on their God-given talents and individual strengths begin to try to follow the “roles” they are being taught. I have heard firsthand from ministers, elders, and other church leaders about problems that have arisen in marriages when couples begin to substitute legalistic “role” playing for their formerly Spirit-led relationship. Honest communication is suppressed as couples begin to act and react as they are taught. Couples have been told that men who don’t buy into it are “wimps” and that women who disagree are “rebellious Jezebels.” 

True relationship and “role” playing don’t mix!  Couples should live and love and relate to each other as Jesus Christ tells them to, through His Holy Spirit. They should be honest, open, and REAL with each other.  Decisions such as who should handle the money, who works, who stays home, etc. should be handled with prayer and spiritual discernment by the COUPLE themselves, with both husband and wife putting the interests and welfare of the other ahead of their own, as Scripture instructs. 

The “role” training material uses terms like “headship” and “submission” that seem to be “biblical” because Scripture passages are quoted out of context to support their ideas.  However, their interpretation of these terms CANNOT be found in the Bible.  The Bible does not tell us who should write the checks, who should mow the lawn, or who should load the dishwasher.  For the most part, events recorded in the Bible reflect the culture in the time and place that they occurred. But there are enough positively portrayed cultural exceptions to make it clear that the roles were not ordained by God.  Jacob and Esau cooked.  Deborah led a nation. The good wife of Proverbs 31 invested in land, made goods to sell for profit, and took care of the family to make it possible for her husband to serve as a judge at the gate. Lydia of Philippi was a wealthy business woman who supported Paul and his companions while they ministered in her city. Both Aquila AND Priscilla taught Apollos.  And there are many more examples that could be given. The roles being taught by these “Biblical manhood” groups are clearly cultural (their own cultural preferences) not Biblical. 

Toward the end of the discussion, one of the pastors mentioned Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill megachurch.  He said Driscoll had announced publicly that any man in his congregation who was not the sole breadwinner of his family would be subject to church discipline.  The ministry of Jesus was supported in large part by the wealthy women who believed in Him, learned from Him and traveled as His disciples.  I guess no “Biblical manhood” types were around to set Jesus straight. … Oh! … Maybe they were!

Posted by: Michelle AT 09:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, January 22 2012
Both 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2: 12-15 are difficult passages, for reasons that have nothing to do with women speaking or teaching men. In the 1 Corinthians passage, Paul says “as the law says.” This is a strange comment, especially from Paul. What “law” is he referring to? In the 1Timothy passage, Paul says that women will “be saved” “through childbearing” (check the Greek term if your translation says otherwise.) What happened to “saved through faith”? These statements do not fit with the theology that Paul teaches anywhere else in his letters. I have researched these things and this is the second of a series of blogs discussing what I have found (see Women In Ministry 1). This blog will deal with the interpretation of the 1 Corinthians passage, and only briefly mention the topic of women teaching men (the 1 Timothy passage).

Complementarians believe that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 forbids women to speak in “official” gatherings. If you believe, as I do, that Scripture does not contradict Scripture, this creates a problem, since in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul tells the Corinthian women that they should respect the local cultural views of modesty (by covering their hair) when they pray or prophesy in their gatherings. There are numerous reasonable interpretations of the chapter 14 passage that have been proposed by egalitarians that do not require Scripture to contradict Scripture. This blog presents the one that seems the most convincing to me. Other’s will be discussed later.

In Greco-Roman culture (a strongly male dominated culture – see The Social Status of First Century Women) of the first century there were laws that regulated the rights and duties of wives, grown daughters, children and slaves. One of those civil laws required the wives, grown daughters, children, and slaves of a household to follow the religion and religious customs of the male head of the household (the reason why Timothy was not circumcised even though his mother was Jewish.) But Christians allowed women and slaves to be full participants in the faith all by themselves (which was quite subversive). Because of this, many of the women who worshipped in Christian gatherings would not have had Christian husbands at home to ask questions of. However, there was a group of women who absolutely would have had husbands to ask. Those were the pagan wives who were merely tagging along because their civil law required them to subject themselves to their husband’s faith. In ignorant disrespect, they disrupted the meetings with questions that they should have held until they got home.

The Greek word gynaikes that is translated here as “women” could also have been translated as “wives”, and probably should have been, since they are told to ask “their own husbands” (andras, or men). It is interesting that the first word, which can mean women or wives is translated “women” and the next gender term that can mean men or husbands is translated “husbands”. Standard translation guidelines would dictate a parallel translation. So the meaning of this passage would then be that the pagan wives should remain silent and save their questions for when they got home, showing respect in their observance of their civil law.

These noisy women were not preaching, or praying, or speaking words of wisdom, they were asking questions. That should help guide the interpretation. Furthermore, Paul is addressing, at most, only married women with Christian husbands, since the other women did not have husbands to ask. So, it was only the married women with Christian husbands who were being told to be silent. Why would Paul do that?

And, now, a brief thought regarding the complementarian view that women should not teach men (and conversely that men should not learn from women). There is a lot of Scripture that men who hold a complementarian view need to get rid of. Starting with Genesis, they must go through their Bibles and mark out all the words of women that they might learn from. Strike out everything said by Sarah. No song of Miriam, no Ruth or Naomi, no Deborah, Hannah, Huldah, or Elizabeth, no Magnificat, no announcement of the resurrection from Mary Magdelene, no discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, no . . . , well you get the point.
Posted by: Michelle AT 10:03 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, January 20 2012

I have spent a great deal of time studying Christian views regarding women in ministry. There are two main views, "egalitarian" and "complementarian." The defenders of both views support their ideas with Scripture. Each side believes that the other is misinterpreting various passages. I have looked at the arguments, and have approached the topic using the interpretation guidelines I was taught.

  1. When reading a passage, consider the context. Who? What? When? Where? and Why? Who wrote the passage? To whom was it written? What was the author dealing with? When was the passage written? Where were the author and recipients when the passage was written? What was their cultural situation? Why was the passage written? (to deal with a problem? to encourage the readers?) As a first look at the social setting for women in the New Testament, read my paper, The Social Status of First Century Women.
  2. Unless there is a reason to do otherwise, the plain and normal meaning of the words should be assumed.
  3. Passages should be understood within the context of the overall topic under discussion, not pulled out of context.
  4. When the meaning of a particular term is uncertain, it is often helpful to look at the word in the original language. Bible translators also have guidelines they follow. However, sometimes there are other words that COULD have been used as the translation of the Hebrew or Greek term. It is sometimes helpful to consider what the passage would mean if one of the alternative terms had been used in the translation.
  5. Although each of us is individually responsible to God, it is often helpful to carefully study the interpretations of others. If a belief is controversial, it is important to understand the various views and to personally search the Scriptures to discern the truth.
  6. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to let Scripture interpret Scripture. In other words, ask yourself, "What interpretation is consistent with the overall message of the gospel?"

I am going to write a series of blogs on this topic, examining the arguments that have been made on both sides.

Posted by: AT 11:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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