Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Me? Obey Him? (serial review) [pg. 13]

Remember yesterday, when we decided that Elizabeth Rice Handford was wrong to claim Genesis 3:16 as God's command to women? She continues on page 13 to say that, "Even in the Garden of Eden, before the sin of Adam and Eve, God had set up the chain of command. It required the husband to be in authority over the woman."

She goes on to list First Timothy 2:11-13 and First Corinthians 11:3 as proof texts for this, and insists that because "Christ is subject to God the Father," "it is no shame, no dishonor, for a woman to be under authority."  (pages 13 and 14)

If I could sit down with Elizabeth over some passion tea lemonade or something, I'd ask her why we see nothing, absolutely nothing, in Genesis about this supposed "chain of command" until after the fall and God's description of the curse. Why does it require completely reading an idea into the text of Genesis, so much so that we have to quote two passages from Paul's letters, to see this "chain of command" if God had really set it up from the start? Maybe we're jumping to some premature assumptions here?

Singling out the verses in First Timothy and First Corinthians is not a magic formula for proving biblical hierarchy. The Word of God should be taken more seriously, and the letters of Paul handled more carefully than that, especially when Paul is the same guy made a hypocrite when we treat those passages like universal decrees. And mistake words like "head" to mean leader in every instance. Neglecting to dig into the full context of each verse in Paul's letters never lets us view the entire picture as it was meant to be seen. If our perception is off, we live life poorly. If we pull misinterpreted passages from the New Testament to insist on a way of life being God's original intent from the very beginning, we should probably see that original intent being displayed from the very beginning. We don't.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Me? Obey Him? (serial review) [pgs. 11, 12]

If I wrote an entire book for the purpose of encouraging and helping others to do something in particular, like follow a certain state law, would you expect me choose a behavior that is indeed a law? Let's say I'm a super excited supporter of a recently elected governor, and I want to stand by him and see other people do the same. So I go around telling people, "Don't feed the birds. No bird-feeders, even on private property. Governor says so!"
So even though you've been an avid bird lover since childhood, you follow this law... until the day you find out it was never made a law at all, certainly not by this new governor. And then you're just ticked off.

I lied to you. If I was just plain confused about the actual laws, I at least misinformed you. It's a lot like what Elizabeth Rice Handford does with the book Me? Obey Him? and she starts right off with it in the first chapter. It begins with a regaling of sorts of the creation account, and God's good creation of "the single most important relationship a human being can ever enter into with another human being." I'm not sure exactly where she gets that idea, or how she's defining important here, but we'll move on.

She continues with:
He gave man a woman, to be companion, friend, compassionate helpmeet, lover, and heir with him in the grace of creating new life.
Sounds alright. She doesn't define helpmeet that I'm seeing though, and that might be slightly or vitally important, depending on if you want to give someone the full picture of God's intentions or not. If we're going to go around insisting we're created to be a helper to someone, it's probably a good idea to know what helper actually means. (Hint: the word in its original language implied no hint of subordination at all, but was also used several times in the Old Testament in reference to God. Is He our subordinate assistant? Hmm.)

So God gave man a woman, and they loved each other and were heirs together and life was great. And then, what happened Elizabeth? She says:

But one dark day - the darkest day in all the world, darker even than the day Christ gave His life on the cross, because this day made necessary that day - Eve listened to the serpent in the garden. She believed Satan's lie. She touched the forbidden fruit, plucked it, tasted it, and gave it to her husband. Together they inherited, not the God-likeness Satan had promised but the curse of death. 
So this sets us up quite easily to learn what that curse of death looked like. What was it? Elizabeth goes on:

When God walked through the garden in the cool of that somber day, He found His two creatures hiding, shivering in the nakedness of their sin. In a voice that struck dread in the heart of that first woman, God said to her, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." 
There you have it. There's the curse of death. The subordinate and ruling "roles" so preached as God's design are seen clearly here as part of the curse, I don't really see at all how Elizabeth missed it, particularly since she wrote the two above paragraphs right next to each other.

A paragraph later, things become more confusing when she says, "The command uttered that day to the stricken wife still stands: "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."

Two things, here. The big one, the one that invalidates every following argument is that Elizabeth calls this description of the curse God's command. Do you see a command? I don't see a command. Telling someone how things will be is never the same as telling someone how things ought to be. God saying, "he shall" is not God saying, "he should."
There is absolutely no command. And yet this "command" is the premise on top of which Elizabeth builds her entire book.

If there's no command, there's no book. Yet somehow, there is a book, even though there's no command.
Kind of a waste, huh?

Second, let's use the wild imaginations the Lord gave us for a moment, and just pretend (work with me here) for a moment, that it was a command. (Note: You'll have to completely twist around the wording and even change a few words in your head, but you can do it. Everyone does.)
Okay, now that we think for the moment it was a command, does it still stand today? Elizabeth says it does, but does it? It was part of the curse of death, right? What did Jesus come for again? Did He come to establish that curse of death, or redeem us from it? Did He come to further a new Kingdom or the old one? Does He want us living under the curse that created our need for Him and catalyzed His death to begin with?

I'm not seeing it. So this foundational argument that Elizabeth tries to stand on makes the rest of the book quite useless. If her assumptions were true, maybe the rest would make sense. But if the first few pages are completely false assumptions, what good is the rest of it? When God told Eve that her desire would be for her husband, and her husband would rule over her, God was describing something, not prescribing it. The meanings of those words are vastly different. And even if the description were a prescription (which it can't be), that prescription is what prescribed Christ the duty of coming to save and reestablish us as heirs of all God has for us - whether we're male or female.   

The title to the first chapter (Why Did God Command a Wife to Obey Her Husband?), then, is really only as important as its legitimacy. It's not usually effective to ask why God did something if He never did it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Me? Obey Him? (a serial review)

To be quite honest, I didn't think I'd be back to this blog. If you're glad I am anyway, you have Elizabeth Rice Handford to thank.

What did she do, you ask? She wrote a book called Me? Obey Him?
Now, I've seen it a little around the blogosphere. It's not a new book as it was written back in the early 70s. Still, when I ran across it at a church rummage sale a few weeks back, I had to buy it simply to get it out of there. My plan was to toss it, or maybe burn it. I thought I might browse through it first, but I didn't think I'd read the entire thing. And then I did. I read it all, and toward the end, I started jotting notes into the margins of the pages. I decided to read the whole book again and add notes from the beginning, then pass the book on to someone else. However it didn't take me long to realize there wasn't quite enough margin space for all I wanted to add.

So here I am.

Shall we start with the back cover? It reads:

Does God really want women to be in subjection to their husbands? 

Elizabeth Rice Handford uses God's Word to present the reasons for a wife's submission to her husband. She shows how the husband and wife relationship is the foundation for a happy and godly home. And at the same time, she shows how a submissive wife is not an inferior partner.

Best of all, Mrs. Handford shows not only the responsibility of submission, but she shows the blessings, the joys and privileges that living a life according to God's plan brings. 

I'm here to walk through the book in front of you, and offer what I know along the way. Four or five short years ago, that little synopsis above would have not made me blink twice. It probably wouldn't even do that now, except now I've read the book in its entirety and I'm not convinced this synopsis really captures the essence of it. So for better or worse (hopefully not worse) I'm jumping in this week...

If I knew it was okay, I'd share every page in full right here, so it's obvious I'm not misconstruing her words. As it is, I'll quote chunks and page number them, and give you the joy of going out to find the book on ebay or something if you want to see it all.

Page ix, where the author asks a favor and expresses a hope that we will find the ideas in her pages "absolutely faithful to the Scriptures." I wish I had. What I found were verses like John 7:17, followed by questions like, "Are you willing to do whatever He says? Really willing? Without any reservations or "buts"? If God will make His will absolutely plain to you, will you do it?"

My answer was yes. I hit that point over two years ago now. Really, truly, genuinely hit that point of, "God, just show me Your will, whatever it may be, whatever it may mean for me, and here am I."
It was how I became egalitarian.

Next up in the series: Chapter 1: Why Did God Command a Wife to Obey Her Husband?

I'll give you a sneak-peak sort of hint. To quote Karate Kid: "The answer is only important if you ask the right question."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Working Women

Speaking of women who make Paul a hypocrite, Philip Payne, in his book Man and Woman: One in Christ, highlights four more women in the New Testament who seem to be overlooked in the study on a woman's place in the church. I won't make you wait any longer. Meet:

Mary in Romans 16:6, who is described as having "worked hard among" those to whom Paul is writing.

Not long after, in verse 12, we find Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis. Yes, it's true. Go ahead and pull open that Bible, see for yourself. Paul commends these women as having "worked hard in the Lord."

At a glance, maybe we can brush over these examples. But what if we considered that the Greek word used here for "work" is "a word that specifically denotes work in the gospel and in the church"? What if we thought about the fact that Paul uses this word more than once to describe his own ministry? (See 1 Corinthians 4:12, Galatians 4:11, and Philippians 2:16)

Paul even asked the Corinthians (1st Cor. 16:16) to submit to everyone who worked with him. Check out 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 for another usage of the same word for work.

I'm not going to tell anyone what all this means. But if you want to piece it together for yourself and dwell on it a while... have at 'er!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

5 Women Who Make Paul a Hypocrite

Why can't women preach and teach and lead in the church?
Well, because Paul said so, and when he said so, it made it into the Bible. That's God's Word. He said it in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Some think so anyway. There's actually a dispute there. But then, even if he didn't, he said it in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

"Let a woman learn in silence and total submission–I do not permit a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence."

Seems pretty straight-forward, doesn't it? It doesn't seem like there could be that much to question then, when it comes to the role of women in ministry (and beyond). And yet, there is. There are two major lines of thought on women in ministry, people who fall under two major camps known as: complementarian and egalitarian. And within that complementarian camp, there are a vast number of different ways given to explain this passage, and how to apply it, and what exceptions there are to it.
Quick examples include:

  • Women should never teach or speak, period
  • Women can speak, but never teach. Period 
  • Women can teach, but not men. Only other women and children, period. 
  • Women can teach men, but only in a testimonial sort of way. 
  • Women can teach men, but only under the authority and headship of a lead male pastor figure. 
  • Women can teach men, but only during Sunday and Wednesday evening services, and under the headship of a man. 

Seems the waters get muddied pretty quickly when it comes to how this verse actually plays out in the modern body of Christ. So what do we do? How can we tell what women are actually allowed to do, and what they're not? Paul said it clearly. He did not permit them to teach, but he did want them to learn in silence and submission.
Raised complementarian, I was taught these scriptures were to be taken to heart and acknowledged as my personal instructions from God. And why not? If the Bible wasn't written as a guideline for all people at all times, why read it?
But I did read it, and I've continued to read it, and as I have, I've found Paul's letters to contain a lot more than that one passage regarding women. In fact, I've found a number of women mentioned by name, who seem to be anything but silent and lacking authority. And Paul doesn't even call them out on it. Ready to meet them:? In case you're unfamiliar, let me introduce you.

She's called, by Paul, a deacon in Romans 16:1. Note this. The same word for deacon appears three times elsewhere in Romans (13:4 and 15:8), and each time, it is better translated as minister than servant. If Paul wanted to refer to her as a servant or simple assistant, there were definitely better terms or phrases he could have easily used. (He uses them in Romans 15:25 and 1 Corinthians 16:15, for instance.) Yet this instance of the use "deacon" is to be categorized with the uses of the same word in Philippians 1:1, when Paul addresses "all overseers and deacons," and 1 Timothy 3:8, when Paul lists the qualifications for deacons as church leaders.

The language used in this passage specifies Phoebe to be a deacon "of the church in Cenchrea," which indicates a recognized office. Paul tells the Romans to "receive her" rather than extend greetings, implying she was a bearer of the Romans. It seems he must have held her in high regard. He goes on to tell them she had been a leader of many, including himself. This word for leader translates, "leader, chief, president, presiding officer," and is from the same original Greek word used in Romans 12:8 where Paul states that if one's gift is to lead, then they are to do so diligently.
Even Charles Ryrie, a complementarian, recognizes that the word used to describe Phoebe in Romans 16:2 "includes some kind of leadership."

If you haven't already, maybe find a Bible, or pull up biblegateway.com and search the references for yourself. Paul had nothing but good things to say for and about this woman who lead in a way we seem to see discouraged. Ready to meet another?

She's greeted right after Phoebe, before her husband, in Romans 16:3, and referred to as Paul's fellow worker. In Acts 18:26, we find her taking aside Apollos to teach him the way of God more accurately.
"She could hardly be excluded from the ranks of a teacher." - Charles Ryrie

And she taught a man. Against Greek and Hebrew custom, she's also listed before her husband here, making it most probably she played the dominant roles in the actions. Paul also respectfully refers to her as "Prisca."

It's interesting to note how Apollos is described in Acts.
  • eloquent man
  • mighty in the scriptures
  • instructed in the way of the Lord
  • fervent in spirit
  • speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus
  • boldly speaking in the synagogues

Pretty impressive. Pretty high up there. A woman instructed him, and Paul didn't have a bone to pick with it. She wasn't silent, she didn't stay home and ask her husband to correct Appolos. She did it, and Paul praised her.

Well, first there's the name game. While some poorly translated versions tried changing her name from its original Junia to a masculine-sounding name, Junias, we (basically) universally know:
  • Every reliable testimony of the first millenia church recognizes Junia as a woman.
  • No surviving Greek manuscript identifies Andronicus' partner as a man.
  • No early translation suggests this is a masculine name. 
  • Junia was a common Latin women's name.
  • No confirmed instance of the use Junias has ever been found.  
With that out of the way, this woman is described by Paul as "outstanding among the apostles," in Romans 16:7. An apostle, among other things, is someone who Paul identified as having encountered the risen Christ, and having received a commission to preach the gospel, and endure the labors and sufferings of missionary work. (1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:8, Galatians 1:1, 15-17, Romans 1:1-5, 1 Corinthians 1:1)

St. John Chrysostom (ca. AD 344-407) wrote a lot about Romans, and he was not an advocate of women leaders, but check out what he has to say about Junia: "Even to be an apostle is great, but to be of note among them - consider how wonderful a song of honor that is. For they were of note because of their works, because of their successes. How great the wisdom of this woman that she was even deemed worthy of the title of the apostles."  

Exciting! Ready for a couple more? Meet a pair of my favorites:

In Philippians 4, Paul describes these women as having "contended at (his) side" (Not under him or behind him. At his side.) in the cause of the gospel.
To quote my former pastor, "You know what that means? These were women preachers..." That's how you labor in the gospel; you preach it. These women were doing it right alongside Paul, "along with Clement" (another male they worked with, not under or behind) and Paul's other "fellow workers whose names are in the book of life."

Here we are again, finding Paul comfortable with women ministering along with him, women who were anointed and appointed by God just as he and other men were. 

Well, I'm convinced. There were women Paul knew and greeted and condoned all over the place, who did much more than sit in silence and watch the men. Maybe they didn't get the memo Paul sent Timothy. Maybe Paul kept changing his mind about how he felt about women leading and teaching. Maybe... maybe we need to take a much closer look at the passages that seem to forbid women to speak up and embrace their God-given gifts of teaching and leading. Maybe when we see select portions of specific letters saying one thing, and Paul living out a position that runs quite contrary to those letter portions, we need to take a closer look at what is happening to instigate those letters.

The first time I was introduced to the contrasting letters of Paul, Pastor Doug was giving the message, and he used an analogy that made things click for me. He asked us to imagine that he'd been out one night, that he'd walked into a cafe and discovered a group of women from the church at a booth by the window. Because his wife wasn't there, and because of the particular public circumstances, he didn't hug any of them. He then went home that night and wrote a letter to our assistant pastor, explaining the situation, and that he hadn't given any of the women hugs.

A month later, let's say he came down with an icky bug over the weekend. Word spread throughout the congregation that he was sick. On Saturday afternoon though, he sends out a mass church-wide email to let everyone know he would indeed be there to preach, but adds a note at the end saying something like, "Needless to say, I won't be hugging anyone in the lobby this week, so please don't be upset with me."

Fast forward ten years: Some folks happen to run across both of these letters, and they decide that Pastor Doug's universal policy must have been anti-hugging. Surely, since both of these letters are about instances when Doug didn't hug others, he must have had something against hugging.

But wait. What if these researchers actually talked to Doug's church congregation? They'd laugh in the researchers' faces. They'd give responses like, "Pastor Doug was a hug machine! The man hugged everyone." That was the real truth. It was so true, in fact, that the only time Doug ever had to write about hugging was when he wasn't doing it. He had to let everyone know when he wasn't doing it, because everyone was so used to him living and acting as someone who gave and received hugs.

Maybe... just... like... Paul. Maybe the only times Paul had to write about his thoughts on women speaking and leading were during particular exceptional circumstances. Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Euodia and Syntyche are all proof he didn't actually expect all women at all times to learn in silence. When Paul wrote about the five women listed above (and the others not even mentioned here), he gave us an obvious look at the way he lived his life, what he believed and knew to be true. When we look at, say, 1 Timothy 2, we are looking at a specific letter written to someone in particular, about Paul's feelings over a singular situation. So, if we take the few times Paul prohibited women from speaking as his universal theological policy regarding women, we must accept that Paul can only then be a hypocrite. Saying one thing and doing another makes a hypocrite. Unless we understand how to look at the letters of Paul, that's exactly what we see him doing.

  • Major resources for this post include Philip B. Payne's Man and Woman: One in Christ , John Temple Bristow's What Paul Really Said About Women, Doug Lebsack's paper Women in Ministry, and various collective sites and  articles found in the world wide web.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Audience of One

"For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority." Colossians 2: 9-10

I'm not big into body alterations. I don't even have my ears pierced. But I've considered getting this scripture reference tattooed into my arm for a while now. As I've navigated through books and articles and blogs and messages from Preacher Bob and Sister Jill and their theologian cousin Lou Shmoo, studying and seeking answers regarding God's plan for the female portion of the human race, this piece of Scripture has been a consistent source of comfort and strength.  

I mean, look at it. What a reminder that He is God, and because of that, He is the only ultimate supreme to whom I must answer. While He’s given me authorities and leaders, He’s also given me someone I am to ultimately regard as the final say in every aspect of my life. Himself.

He is it.

Not only that: With Him, through Him, in Him: I. Am. Complete.
I don’t need to find a book by a prestigious evangelical author each time I’m struggling with a life issue. I don’t have to go to the podcasts of a church website whenever I need advice or answers for something. It’s not going to take agreeing with a clan of other Christians to find affirmation and significance.

May I? Absolutely. I think I should acknowledge, appreciate, and celebrate the body of Christ, looking to its various members for support, encouragement, wisdom, direction and guidance. I do this regularly. But at the end of the day, my decisions are to be made based on what I know God is telling me, and not on what Bob, Jill, or Lou said, no matter how much they’ve studied the Bible. I can recognize that God uses them, especially in certain areas, to guide me toward God’s answer for my particular situation, but I know that no one ever has the answer in and of themselves. No one I know has a perfect ear for God’s perfect will and an infallible eye for the exact truths of Scripture as applied to my life.

A few verses before the ones above, Jesus is recognized as the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Guess what’s cool. I have direct access to that Jesus. The Jesus who is fully God, and who makes me complete and who owns all wisdom is the Jesus I have unlimited connection with.

So do you. If you want it, ask for it. If you ask for it, you have it. You don’t have to rely on the Q&A posts of your favorite blog, the next hour of the radio program your Dad swore by, the book on the shelf at the church, the Bible study of like-minded believers...
You don’t have to depend on them for your answers. They can be great tools, but if something seems off, don’t feel obligated to believe it simply because it poses as the biblical truth you supposedly need. You’re not being rebellious or difficult if you refuse to take someone’s opinion at face value, no matter how many Bible references they post alongside it. Obviously, that includes anything posted here.

I rattle on about this because it’s a vitally important thing to remember for people who are seeking out God’s truth regarding women.

 Google “Christian women.”

Everybody and their dog has an opinion or God-ordained message about the place for them. Christian men and Christian women alone have about 5 major lines of thought that branch off into about 500 others. There are stay-at-homers, feminists, complementarians, egalitarians, people searching, people beyond swaying, some who stand on their beliefs with exceptions, some who take their conviction to the furthest extreme, those who have changed their mind a few times, those who are following the way they were raised, those who base their beliefs off of their experiences, those who base their beliefs off their studying… some who do both…

Almost all of them have one thing in common. They believe they are right.

This is an issue where it is very easy to get bogged down, quickly. There’s a danger of falling into the trap of thinking we must choose a side, or at least, a group, and pledge our allegiance. Or wave a flag, or something.

We don’t.

As followers of Christ, do we not live for an audience of One? We consider our family, our fellow believers, other humans, yes. But when it comes to developing the deepest and most life-changing convictions of our souls, why would we ever settle for anything but letting God Almighty pave the way for us personally? He will do it!

“How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart.” Psalm 119:2

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” Proverbs 8:17

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

Now, consider the flipside, because once God does shows you His truth about yourself and other things, recognizing the above can really take the pressure off. I am to correct, rebuke, encourage others in the advancing of the gospel (2 Timothy 2). But I don’t have to feel the weight or pressure of gathering converts on issues of division, especially if they don’t want to hear it. Their job, like mine, is to seek God with all their hearts, and learn from Him. If they want to do that, they will, and if they do, they will find answers without my poking and jabbing. It’s not up to me. It’s up to God Who will fill them with Truth as they choose to search for it.  

A song was released by MercyMe fairly recently and the refrain is amazing, reminding us that our God is the God who conquers giants, calls out kings, shuts the mouths of lions, tells the dead to breathe. He walks through fire and takes the orphan’s hand.

Consider that God. Why would we look to anyone else for answers, truth, and identity? 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Resource Wednesday

I'm going to be honest. There are a number of reasons I prefer not sharing resources with others, even those I find very helpful. Some are probably selfish, but one reason is that I hate the idea of sharing from someone with whom I don't agree on everything. (This has more to do with assumptions people might make than anything.)
But, I'm working to get over that and I'd like to share a website I have found very insightful and thought-provoking even when I don't fully agree with the view on the issue being addressed. I do more often than not, however.

Without further ado: http://soulation.org/jonalynblog/