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.

Genuine Dedication to the Lord

It’s Thursday morning here at Northern Seminary. My mind is already tired but at the same time my heart is filled with joy. It’s so wonderful to be around pastors from a variety of Christian traditions who simply want to follow Jesus and help others to do the same.*

As expected, we are engaging in some very rich and challenging conversations about the kingdom, church, and the mission of God. The teacher is Scot McKnight, who is a prolific evangelical New Testament scholar who writes for the church rather than academia. That’s something I appreciate.

The class itself is enriching our understanding of scripture as it speaks to the church in relation to the kingdom and mission of God. Simply put, we cannot read scripture and ignore the role of the church in the mission of God. The body of Christ is called to witness, to declare through word and deed the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not a call just for a certain group of Christians, such as pastors or missionaries, but for every Christian to live as disciples embodying the way of Jesus as our way. That is our witness… our calling!

Yet as I think about this calling and I think of so many local churches who are struggling in this calling, I am drawn to the words of Jeremiah. This prophet of Israel speaks at a time when the people of God were losing their way and had forgotten their calling. As Jeremiah speaks the oracles of the Lord, one line stands out where the prophet reports the Lord says, “…you must genuinely dedicate yourselves to the Lord and get rid of everything that hinders your commitment to me, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Jer 4:4, NET).

Churches, including our own, and every Christian must take notice of this language. Ministers, like myself, and other church leaders must take notice of this language. It’s so easy to just go through the motions, show up for a church service on Sunday but never give our all. It’s an epic failure that may never be realized until it’s too late. So Jeremiah implores to “genuinely dedicate” our lives to the Lord, letting go of everything that impedes such dedication.

In other words, half-hearted commitments will not do! Our faith, our calling and commitment is not a part-time gig.

For Israel, what hindered commitment was idolatry. Today idolatry takes the form of time, work, safety, family, nation, etc… Maybe we’re too busy with work to live our lives in true fellowship with each other, loving one another as we bear each others burdens. Or maybe our prophetic witness to the world has been silenced because we have become preoccupied with exalting the nation. Whatever the case, idols hinder commitment to the Lord who calls us to be the church living as a community bearing witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Missional renewal happens when there is total commitment. The lack of total commitment is what led to Israel’s downfall and it is this same lack of total commitment that leads to the downfall of local churches.

So let’s meditate on the words of Jeremiah the prophet and ask ourselves: What must we get rid of so that we can totally commit ourselves to the Lord?

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* With few changes, this article was originally published in Connecting 29 (September 17, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

When The Glamour Fades… Discipleship

I’ve been preaching through the Gospel of Mark, which is probably my favorite  of the four Gospels in the New Testament. In a nutshell, the Gospel of Mark is about what it means to truly believe in Jesus. Discipleship!

Reading through the Mark’s Gospel will remind you that Jesus did call us to be just good “church-going” folks. Jesus calls us to follow him and as Mark reminds us, that call takes us to the place where we must choose to pick up our own cross and continue following Jesus into this narrow way that leads to life (cf. Mk. 8:34-35). So I’ll leave you with a quote from a book I recently read by Richard V. Peace, Conversion in the New Testament, reminding us that the following Jesus will not always be an ecstatic journey:

“To follow Jesus as the teacher/prophet/Messiah of popular imagination is one thing. This has glamour and appeal. Clearly Jesus is in touch with the power of God, and equally clearly he plays a unique and special role in God’s scheme of things. But the glamour fades quickly when following Jesus is defined in terms of self-denial and cross-bearing” (p. 257).

Whatever it may look like to deny ourselves and bear our own cross on a daily basis, we do it not because it is easy or pleasurable but because we believe in Jesus… because we believe that salvation only is found in following Jesus into his crucifixion and resurrection.

As darkness and evil continues among the world, may we remember our faith in Jesus!

What Question Are We Asking?

Reading the Bible is a good thing. But how we read the Bible may or may not be such a good thing! As I’ve said before and as I’m sure many others have said too, how we read the Bible matters just as much as whether or not we read the Bible.

Consider Jesus and the Pharisees in a story from Mark 3:1-6. There they all stand among a synagogue on the Sabbath Day. According to Exodus 31:15, doing work on the Sabbath day was a violation of the Law and anyone committing such a violation was subject to capital punishment. So as a man with a withered hand approaches Jesus, the Pharisees are looking at Jesus to see if he is going to keep the Sabbath regulation or if he is going to violate it, which in their eyes he has already done enough of (read Mark 2). That’s when Jesus asks the Pharisee a very interesting question in v. 4:

“Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” 

That’s one question but in reality it reveals two very different questions being asked, one by Jesus and the other by the Pharisees.

In one sense, Jesus and the Pharisees have a lot in common. They both love God, seek righteousness, and are committed to faithfully doing the will of God . . . kind of like us. Yet in another sense, Jesus and the Pharisees are very different. Their understanding of God’s will is different and it all stems from their understanding of the kingdom. The Pharisees believe the kingdom will only come by a strict adherence to the Law of Moses, which includes the traditions associated with Torah. But Jesus the kingdom of God is already at hand (and has already declared this good news – cf. Mk 1:14-15) and therefore believes that he and his disciples simply should live out the kingdom life.

And that is why when the man with the withered hand approaches, the Pharisees are asking a legalistic question “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” while Jesus is asking a kingdom question of “How do I do good in this place, bearing witness to the presence of God’s kingdom (reign)?”

Two very different questions!

I once knew of a thriving church of roughly 150 believers. They gathered for worship in a fairly new building on a side of town that was experiencing a lot of new residential growth. Some of the young parents began asking a kingdom question “How might we minister (do good) in this neighborhood?” After praying about this for a few months, they received a vision for how they might minister to other young families with children in that neighborhood. And with the blessing of their elders and minister supporting them, they began an exciting Sunday-School ministry, assisted by the purchase of a Joy Bus. God blessed this ministry and the church with lots of new growth and all seemed well.

And all was well until a few modern-day Pharisees came along asking a legalistic question “Where is their authorization in the New Testament for having a Sunday School?” By asking such a question while proof-texting the Bible, particularly the New Testament, in ad hoc fashion and resorting to their syllogistic reasoning, they divided the church. The Joy Bus was parked for good and this promising children’s ministry died!

Again, Two very different questions!

But what questions are we asking. When we pick up the Bible and read it, do we read it as a story where we ask how we might participate in the kingdom life as followers of Jesus in a consistent yet improvisational way? (See N.T. Wright, “How Can The Bible Be Authoritative?,” and pay attention to the section The Authority of a Story to understand what it means to live in a consistent yet improvisational way.) Or when we pick up the Bible and read, are we asking questions like “Does scripture authorize us to do…?” or “Is there a direct command, apostolic example, or necessary inference for doing…?”

By recognizing that the kingdom of God is already at hand, we are free to read the Bible as a story which we participate in rather than a law which we must some how try to meticulously keep. This is not to ignore that there are commands in scripture which as followers of Jesus, we must obey. What this does is open for us new possibilities as people who are learning how to improvise the story we are participants of in a consistent way among our own contexts. It doesn’t matter whether or not we have an example in scripture for . . . because it’s the wrong question and asking the wrong question usually results in getting the wrong answer.

And if your still not convinced that the difference between the two different types of questions matter that much, Jesus looked at the Pharisees with “anger” as he was “grieved by the hardness of their hearts.”

Questions For Reflection:

  1. How does this change our understanding of what it means to be the church? Participants in the mission of God?
  2. What do need to do in order to be a tangible expression of the kingdom of God in our neighborhoods?
  3. What changes might we have to make in the way we go about doing church?

Ministry Leadership: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

You’ve heard it said that leadership is influence and the ability to influence. There’s a lot of truth to that, especially when you serve among a church or any other organization where leaders are dependent upon volunteers. That begs the question of how a person acquires this ability to influence others?

There are likely a variety of factors that contribute to a person gains the ability to influence. Position, charisma, and expertise come to mind. In ministry, if one has good experience and a solid theological education to go along with a very engaging personality that exudes with vision and decisiveness then that minister likely some ability for influence. But don’t be fooled! Relying solely on position, charisma, and expertise has limitations that will become apparent sooner than later (as almost every President discovers). Also, reliance upon position, charisma, and expertise can easily become repressive, requiring more manipulation than influence, creating a toxic culture.

Another asset in gaining the ability to influence is character. People are willing to listen and follow a person who consistently demonstrates a virtuous life. This includes the way any would be leader treats other people, including his/her own family. For ministers, especially those who regularly preach and teach, character also includes demonstrating trustworthiness with scripture . . . showing people that you will preach and teach healthy doctrine. So character is very important and it is also important to remember that leaders can spend years growing a healthy tree and cut that tree down with one very unwise move (be thankful for the mercy that God often shows towards are mistakes that have not undone us!).

Beyond position, charisma, and expertise, and beyond character is one other attribute that will allow those whom God has called to serve in ministry to gain the ability to influence. This attribute is what I’ll call blood, sweat, and tears. The church is a community of Christians and as such, Christians are to bear the burdens of each other (cf. Gal 6:2). Whether it is sitting in the hospital visiting room with a family whose child has just been air-lifted to the trauma center, helping a family move from one house to another, or something as seemingly mundane as just picking up the telephone to call and say “Hi!”, you are engaging and sharing in real life with the people of the church . . . sometimes helping them bear a real heavy burden. That is, you’re showing your willingness to bleed, sweat, and shed tears with them.

When a leader is willing to share blood, sweat, and tears with the people, then they earn the currency to influence. This is, I believe, an important yet somewhat underrated aspect of leadership that is seen in everyone from Jesus and the Apostle Paul to more contemporary leaders such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa. So also should it be among ministers, elders, and other church leaders. So if your a minister or serving in some other capacity of church leadership, let me encourage you to look for opportunities where you can share some blood, sweat, and tears with your church!