Blessing The Children

Yesterday the Columbia Church of Christ had our blessing of the children. Besides singing songs and reading scripture about the abundant blessings of God, the message was about the role parents and the church plays in raising children as faithful followers of Jesus. At the end of the message, the parents brought their children and committed to raising them as followers of Jesus, with the church lifting each child up in a prayer of blessing. After blessing our children, we shared in the Lord’s Supper together.

The following was part of the prayer of blessing offered for our children:

As the family of God, a congregation of whom Jesus is the head…We ask for you God, our Father in heaven to bless these children…

Lord, we praise you for the life of these children and ask you to surround everyone of them with your blessing, that they each may know your love and may be protected from all evil, knowing your goodness all the days of their lives.

Lord, we ask that you bless the parents of these children, giving them the grace to love and care for their children with patience and faith. As they stand before us as a profession of their commitment to teach their children to be followers of your Son, Jesus, may your Spirit grant them wisdom and guidance to live as Jesus, setting an example of what it means to be a Christian!

And Lord, as we give these Bibles to the newest born children among us, we pray that as they grow up, they will receive the scriptures as your word, shaping them and becoming their story… our story…your story, Lord! Amen!*

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* Adapted from an Anglican prayer of blessing for children.

Do We Have To Go To Church?

“Do we have to go to church?”* said most everyone of us at some point in our life. I’ve asked that question before and I’m sure other minister have done so as well.

I get the question. People are asking if attending a Sunday church assembly is necessary. Part of me wants to whip out Hebrews 10:25 as a prooftext, where the writer of Hebrews warns against forsaking the assembly. If were looking for a law, which a question like this often assumes, then the instruction in Hebrews appears sufficient. Having said all that, something else has already gone afoul when we have to ask the question of whether it is necessary to assemble with our church… on Sunday or any other time when the church assembles.

What Are We Asking, Saying, and Doing?

The question of whether we have to go to church also assumes a view of church that is widely accepted but still wrong. The assumption is that church is where we go and what we do rather than who we are as a community of disciples. Hence, we speak of church in the third-person singular rather than the first-person plural voice. Church is no longer thought of in terms of who we are − our identity as a community of disciples − but as an independent part of our life.

The problem is deeper though. As I pointed to earlier, the question assumes a legalistic approach to the Christian faith. This legalism holds that there are certain laws that must be kept in order to remain a faithful Christian and the question wants to know if going to church is necessary to remain a faithful Christian. However, most of the time it seems as though the person asking is looking for an out… a legal loophole, so to speak. Perhaps the person wants to justify sleeping in on Sunday morning, heading out to the golf course, the deer stand, etc… Because church is already regarded as just a part of life, something the person goes to do rather their way of live, church is now becoming even a lesser part of life.

In reality, the question of whether or not we have do go to church says much about our relationship with God. Since church is only a part of our life and is becoming a lesser part of life, God is no longer first. God is replace with something else, which is now more important and that is a deeper issue.

A Spiritual Disease?

As I think about the deeper issue, I am reminded of the story in the Gospel of Luke about the rich ruler (Lk 18:18-29). The man’s problem is not his wealth, it’s putting his wealth before God! Trying to justify himself he comes to Jesus inquiring about what is necessary for eternal life, so Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. Of course, this wealthy man is already keeping the commandments. There’s still one problem and Jesus calls him on it… This man loves his riches more than he loves God and so his riches, rather than God, are his top priority. So he left, unable to follow Jesus into the kingdom because he loved his riches more than he loved God.

We can’t and don’t go to church because we are the church! Yet as the church, we gather together as an assembly in various formats and these gatherings are important. There are times when we cannot assemble and have legitimate reasons for not being able to do so. But when we begin to see the assembly as the church and separate that into just one part of our life, we inevitably do the same with God. For our relationship with God is bound within the community (church) of God’s people which God has made us a part of. When we relegate this relationship into one part among other parts of our life like family, work, hobbies, and so on, those other parts have the potential of becoming more important.

When this happens we end up asking questions like “Do we really have to go to church?” It’s a spiritual disease because what we really seem to be asking is “Do we really have to put God first?”

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* This article was originally published in Connecting 29 (October 1, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

My Top 10 Books

After receiving a nomination to do so, I listed on Facebook the top 10 favorite books sitting on my bookshelves. All of these books have been read within the last fifteen years of my life and I selected each because of their impact when I read each book. I’m listing them here with a brief comment for each book as to why it makes my top 10 list. Regardless of what edition I read, I am providing links (click on the titles) to each of the latest book editions. Also, this should go without saying but for the sake of clarity, this list pertains to non-biblical books. The Bible is obviously my favorite and most read book.

So here are my top ten books… for now:

  1. Vincent J. Donavan, “Christianity Rediscovered.” This is the story of how one Catholic missionary begins anew with one desire, to teach the Masai people about Jesus, and rediscovers what it means to live by faith as a follower of Jesus. The book is full of fascinating insights for the missionary, pastor, or parishioner.
  2. N.T. Wright, “Surprised By Hope.” This book is about what the future life to come will be like because of what God has redemptively accomplished in Christ. It gave a succinct voice to a lot of thoughts I was already developing as I read scripture.
  3. Jürgen Moltmann, “Theology of Hope.” This book is fairly dense reading on the subject of Christian eschatology rooted in christology. The idea of our future being present to us in the resurrection of Christ was a theological paradigm shift for me and remains very provocative idea in a good sense.
  4. Alan Hirsch & Micheal Frost, “The Shaping of Things to Come.” This is the book that opened me to the missional church conversation that had started emerging. I read the book just after having moved from Memphis, TN to Ithaca, NY and I needed to think more like a missionary and help lead churches towards a missional (as opposed to pastoral) stance.
  5. John Howard Yoder, “The Politics of Jesus.” Um… Although this is a pretty dense book, I managed to read it during my last year as an undergraduate student at Harding University. Major paradigm shift! Prior to that, living as a Christian in America was easy because both my understanding of the life Jesus calls us to follow him in living and the American life were pretty much flowing in the same direction. After reading this book, everything changed.
  6. Christopher J.H. Wright, “The Mission of God.” This book offers a comprehensive theology of the Bible showing how the entire Bible is the story of God’s mission and how this shapes the way we read scripture. The author’s treatment of sub-topics such as faith, idolatry, covenant, and so forth are also more than worth the time you’ll take to read through this tome.
  7. N.T. Wright, “The New Testament and the People of God.” This book really helped unlock the culture and mindset of the world of Second-Temple Judaism which the gospel unfolds within, giving rise to the New Testament. Wright’s treatment of how this shapes the way we understand the New Testament and his “five-act play” treatment of how we read and practice scripture as participants of the story is essential reading, in my opinion, for any minister of the gospel.
  8. Michael Goheen & Craig Bartholomew, “The Drama of Scripture.” A friend and fellow Christian gave me a copy of this book and since reading it, I have been recommending it to other people (I’ve even given a few copies away myself). The book is an easy read, written for undergraduate students with little to no understanding of the Bible. Therefore the book is sort of a “cliff notes” version of the Bible, presenting the coherent account of the Bible as a single narrative projecting it’s own worldview which Christians are called to live out of. 
  9. Rubel Shelly, “I Just Want To Be a Christian. At a time when my understanding of Christianity was very sectarian, this book helped me see a vision for nonsectarian Christianity by showing me what the formative leaders of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement were seeking in attempting to restore New Testament Christianity. I believe this book and the author, more importantly, is the most important piece of literature to be written among the Churches of Christ in the last fifty years because of the impact this book had (for the better too).
  10. Walter Brueggemann, “The Prophetic Imagination.” This book is a short treatment of the prophetic voice in the Old Testament and the author is challenging and thought provoking as he seeks to have the reader take seriously the alternative vision of the prophetic vision. I can assure you that the next time I preach through one of the prophetic books in the Old Testament, I’ll be reading this book again.

Neither Male Nor Female (Part 4)

Galatians 3.28After reading the Bible and realizing that God had a lot more to say about women in the church than just what I thought two said, I realized that many of the restrictions placed upon women by churches were wrong. I was convinced of this even more after realizing that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 were often lifted out of their context and used as proof-texts to say much more than what these two text actually say. Thus, I became what is commonly referred to as a soft-complimentarian and you can read of this journey in the three previous posts (see links below). But now I have come to hold an egalitarian view, which is another shift. Here is how that happened and why…

Reading the Bible

[Let's talk about the way we should read the Bible. Every Christian reads the Bible but how we read the Bible is as important as reading the Bible.]

A lesson I learned from listening to Randy Harris, who teaches Bible at Abilene Christian University, is that we all tend to understand various issues through certain biblical texts. Traditionally, the issue of women in the church has been  read and understood through the two texts of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. However, the more I came to understand the Bible, the more I  realized that how we read the Bible matters. As a result, I have become very interested in the way the Bible is read (hermeneutics) and whether or not the way we read the Bible is faithful to the aim of the Bible.

What I’ve learned along the way is that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a narrative or story. Scripture tells the story of how God is redeeming creation in Jesus Christ and how the Spirit empowers the church, as participants in this story, to live as a portrayal of what this redemptive life looks like and will be for the world when Jesus returns. In other words, the story is centered in Christ and portrays the future redemption breaking into the present. This means that instead of scripture (esp. the New Testament) being read as a law book, it is read as a Christological story with an eschatological aim. So I came to the realization that reading the issue of women in the church through the two passages in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2:12 was wrong.

New Scripture Within the Story

I realized that there were two other passages that anticipated this redemptive goal in Christ as it pertains to women in the church. These two passages are found in Acts 2 and Galatians 3. We read in Acts 2:17-18, “And in the last days it will be, God says, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.”And then in Galatians 3:27-28, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female − for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

What I came to realize is that the gospel vision is one of reconciliation where all people are equal, where things like ethnicity, social-status, and gender are of no consequence. The passages of scripture in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, which deal with specific prohibitions regarding women, are sort of like the different passages that give specific instructions about slaves. That is, they are temporal instructions given into a culture that is still awaiting to see the full embodiment of the gospel vision where all people are regarded as equal and therefore as equal participants in the mission of God. And that is how I came to embrace egalitarianism. That is, if the gospel vision is one of equality where differences no longer matter, then there are not any roles or ministries in the body of Christ that are restricted to men only except in temporary occasions where the gospel might be impeded by not restricting women. However, that’s not the case throughout much of our Western culture in North America. In fact, we might reasonably conclude that churches who continue to practice positions of male-hierarchy are actually impeding the gospel vision.

A Reflection

Well, there you have it. That’s the story of how God has led me from a naive position of male-hierarchy into soft-complimentarian view and now into an egalitarian view. This is why I don’t have any problems with women leading us in prayer, reading scripture, sharing a word as they lead us in the Lord’s Supper, or serving in the many other ways that God has gifted them with the power of his Spirit. It is why I didn’t have any problem with women entering seminary so that they might serve the Lord as a minister among his church (let’s pray for more churches to embrace God’s call upon their lives). And it’s why I won’t have any problems when Sarah Barton, who is a gifted preacher, speaks at this year’s upcoming Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

My aim with this series has first been to affirm the courageous steps that churches like the Columbia Church of Christ and other Churches of Christ have taken regarding the participation of women in the church. But I also want to challenge more consideration of the egalitarian vision regarding men and women in the church which I believe the Gospel points us toward. Where more conversation is necessary is the process by which churches discern this issue and implement change, and what Philippians 2:5-11 has to say about the way churches proceed on an issue where there is a lot of emotion and disagreement.

May God, by the power of his Spirit, give us the courage to live into the gospel vision that Jesus has brought about through his death and resurrection!

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See also “Neither Male Nor Female” (Part 1), (Part 2), & (Part 3)

Neither Male Nor Female (Part 3)

Galatians 3.28Based on two passages of scripture, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12, I once believed that women were to remain silent in the church (period). This meant that women, no matter how gifted they appeared, were never to lead or teach in the assembly nor to lead any ministry of the church. But then I began to read the Bible from cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation, and as I said in yesterday’s post, I found out that the Bible had a lot more to say on this subject than just what the two above passages said. That’s when I realized that God had much more of a use for women in the church than many churches did.

Consequently, I knew something was amiss about the way many churches regarded the issue of women in the church. It dawned on me that whatever the passages of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 were saying, they weren’t saying as much or exactly what so many churches believed they were saying. In fact, what I began to realize is that some would proof-text these two passages to say that the Bible teaches a principle of male leadership as a way of defending their view of male hierarchy. Yet here is the first problem: when we extract an alleged principle from scripture and begin following that principle, we elevate the principle above scripture. That’s a problem! So I knew there was more to learn and this sent me back to the texts of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.

Two Passages of Scripture Reexamined

[In what follows, I offer a mini-synopis of what I have discovered about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 based on the exegetical studies I have done. So that you can read each passage in context, I will provide links to each chapter that will open on another page.]

1 Corinthians 14:34-35. In this Paul is addressing a problem where some women are asking questions in the church gathering (ekklēsia) which they could instead ask at home. These questions are actually part of a chaotic problem that’s disrupting the gathering. This problem includes Christians who are speaking in tongues without an interpreter and Christians who are trying to prophesy out of turn, causing disorder and confusion in the gathering. So in all three cases, Paul insists there must be silence and used the verb sigaō to issue this instruction. In v. 28, those who speak in tongues but do not have an interpreter must be silent (sigaō); in v. 30, when someone else receives a revelation then the one sharing his or her prophesy must be silent (sigaō); and then in v. 34, the women − wives is more precise − who are asking questions during the assembly that they could be asking their husbands at home must also be silent (sigaō).

Further more, since Paul likely was only instructing temporary silence when it came to tongues and prophesy, he likely is only instructing the same for these married women too. In other words, Paul wasn’t saying that the people with the gift of tongues and prophesy could never speak again and he wasn’t saying that these women in Corinth could never speak in the assembly again.

The most we can conclude is that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is only saying women should be silent in regards to these questions.

1 Timothy 2:11-12. This is the passage where Paul instructs Timothy that a women is not allowed “to teach [didaskō] or exercise authority [authenteō] over a man. she must remain quiet [hēsuchia].” What Paul says here has to do with women teaching… not sharing a word of meditation or exhortation around the Lord’s Table, not leading a prayer in the assembly, not leading a ministry, just teaching! The women, or at least some of the women, in this church have been teaching and in doing so, have been exercising authority over the men of the church.

Yet as I wanted to learn more, I also learned that the Bible is not a flat text but is a collection of different writings, including letters like 1 Timothy, written for specific reasons which may not always be as applicable to our own circumstances. The problem in Ephesus where Timothy is ministering is a very immature church suffering from false teaching that has to do with speculative myths (cf. 1 Tim 1:4) rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, in some way this false teaching is threatening the embodiment of the gospel among this church. So in an immature church like this the best thing to do is establish some law and order and in a culture that is very much male-hierarchy, insisting that women remain in submission to the men as they remain silent (= discontinue teaching) makes good pastoral sense. It silences the women who are likely involved in promoting the false teaching going on.

Nevertheless, the only prohibition Paul is placing on women in this passage has to do with teaching which exercises authority over the men.

A Reflection

Where is the passage that prohibits women from leading the church in prayer? From reading scripture during worship? From sharing a thought at the Lord’s table as the church partakes of bread and wine? From leading a youth ministry, an education ministry, and any other ministry of the church for which God has gifted them for? Nota! These passages say nothing about such questions except for what churches have added to the scripture.

So at this point in my journey I became what scholars refer to as a soft-complimentarian. I concluded that the only prohibition scripture placed on women in the church was asking questions in a disruptive manner and teaching (which included preaching and serving as an elder since that is a ministry that requires teaching too). But alas… There was still more to learn, so stay tuned!

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See also “Neither Male Nor Female” (Part 1) & (Part 2).

Neither Male Nor Female (Part 2)

Galatians 3.28Yesterday’s post, the first installment of this series on women in the church, looked at the two passages of scripture that shaped my traditional view of male-hierarchy. Far from a position of male-hierarchy, I now hold an egalitarian view but this change has been a process. Just as the position of male-heirarchy was based on what I believed to be the teaching of scripture, my views began to change because of scripture.

New Passages of Scripture

In 1999 I became at student at Harding University where I would study the Bible, preparing to serve as a minister of the Gospel. One of the things I did was read the Bible from cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation. It’s funny what can happen when reading the Bible.

As I was reading the Bible, I noticed how the gospel vision in Acts 2 mentioned sons and daughters, men and women having visions and prophesying because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. After that, I noticed how in Romans 16 Paul mentions Phoebe, who is a female deacon, and Junia, who along with Andronicus, is “prominent among the apostles” (v. 7, NRSV). Then I noticed how in 1 Corinthians 11 both men and women were praying and prophesying together. Even though I didn’t understand all the head-covering stuff, I knew that no matter how we slice it and dice it that this was an assembly where men and women were both praying and prophesying together (= women praying and speaking). With these passages in mind, I also began to recall the stories in the Bible of women like Deborah, the prophetess in Judges… Ruth and Esther, who even have books of the Bible named after them… and last but certainly not least, Mary the mother of Jesus, who sort of has a sermon recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke.

Strange as it was, God seemed to have much greater use for women in his mission than the church seemed to have.

A Reflection

So all of these passages became for me what Scot McKnight refers to as “blue parakeets.” In his book Blue Parakeets, a book on how we read the Bible, McKnight describes the day when this blue parakeet showed up in his back yard and forced all the other birds to adjust to its unusual presence. And now I had encountered some passages of scripture that were forcing me to think and perhaps adjust. So as McKnight says in his book,

When chance encounters with blue parakeet passages in the Bible happen to come our way, we are given the opportunity to observe and learn. In such cases, we really do open ourselves to the thrill of learning how to read the Bible. …we have to get over our fears and learn to adjust to the squawks of the Bible’s blue parakeets (p. 25).

Now I realized that the Bible actually had a lot more to say about women in the church! I wanted to learn more. And as I would soon find out… Boy oh boy, was there a lot more to learn. So stay tuned!

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See all “Neither Male Nor Female” (Part 1).

Neither Male Nor Female (Part 1)

Galatians 3.28This past Sunday with the Columbia Church of Christ I preached on women in the church, calling the message “Neither Male Nor Female.” The Columbia Church of Christ is a community of believers who has become more gender-inclusive than many Churches of Christ and after having a recent visitor emphatically tell me our inclusive practices are wrong, I decided that it was time for me to speak about this issue in the church I serve.

While the current inclusive practices of the Columbia Church of Christ are still considered complimentarian, what I did with the sermon was chronicle my own journey from a traditional position of male-hierarchy to an egalitarian view and how I have arrived at this view. The point of this blog series is to share this same journey here but it will take several installments.

2 Scriptures: The Silence of Women

Growing up in the church I did, the rule was simple: Women were to remain silent! This meant that women were not to speak, were not allowed to teach any class where baptized men were present, or participate in leading any part of the worship. Further more, women were not to lead any church ministry except for potlucks. That was women’s work, so that was an exception.

This practice seemed right because or so I thought. This practice was based on two passages of scripture. We read in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, “The women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. And then in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, “A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet.”

That settled it… or so it seemed. The Bible was read as a rule book on how to do church and what was required of the early Christians was required of us my church without exception. These two passages said women were to be silent, so therefore women were to be silent (period). And that admonition of silence restricted women from having any voice in the assembly and leading just about any ministry in the church.

A Reflection

As I often was taught to say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Not once did it ever occur to anyone that the Bible just might have more to say about this issue than just what these two passages were saying. Just the same, it never dawned on anyone that there was a context to these two passages that might shed more light on what they’re saying and change how we understand these texts.

But as we will see, the Bible has a lot more to say about women as participants in the mission of God and therefore how this should look in the life of the church.