Archive for July, 2010

From Ashwin: Where’s Jesus In All This?

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

Here are some comments from Ashwin, edited for space, and mine that follow. And while I always appreciate hearing from him, I’m gobsmacked that he doesn’t seem to grasp that my entire argument is replete with references to the Holy Spirit of God, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, and the very Word of God from which I quote. “Mother Nature” hasn’t a thing to do with this or any other argument of mine.

Anyway . . .

“The major problem I have with your arguments is that Christ is superfluous to them.
The complete exclusion of all reference to God and Christ and the Spirit would not change the force of your statements. What you are saying is essentially that some Providence (of the reader’s choice, it could just as well be Mother Nature) has conferred upon womankind the same sort of abilities that have been conferred on men. Consequently, it does not do to discriminate against women.

So now when one sees what are ultimately leftwing demands for temporal authority being presented in the name of the Living Lord, one begins to wonder whether the Lord is not being reduced to a wrapping. A sugar coat that masks something entirely else. What if Paul really meant what he said in Corinthians? What if man really is the head of woman as Christ is the head of man?

When you quote from the Bible as though from a law-book, do you take into account the fact that the Holy Spirit is more than able to have His will done? Do you think that the grace which allowed so many to go joyfully to horrible tortures, deprivations and deaths would be unable to smash gender hierarchies? And lastly is it not better to serve than to be served. Is not the lower place, willingly chosen, better that the high seat aggressively wrested? Is it not better to serve in Heaven than to reign in Hell?” (Comment to Prevailing Winds, July 30, 2010)

My response:

Ashwin — Again, I’m a bit confused that you don’t see any reference to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in my arguments for gender equality. They, and the Bible, are the only reason I care enough to make the arguments in the first place.

You seem, Ashwin, to think that by “leadership” I mean “preeminence, prominence, top-of-the-hierarchy,” which is a worldy form of so-called leadership, regardless of how distressingly frequent its appearance in the Church. I mean those positions that involve preaching, teaching, and pastoring to all who would hear the glorious Gospel of Christ; that’s a position of humility and servitude, risk and the reward only of seeing souls saved. It’s about being allowed to serve, and serve fully and freely, for one reason and one reason only: So people dying without a Savior can hear and learn the Good News, for the Glory of God and by His strength, alone. I think I’ve been pretty clear that, as you put it in an earlier post, we biblical feminists aren’t at all concerned with simply “getting to” wear robes and swing incense. We want to serve God with all we have and with all he’s given us, without others using bad theology, tradition, culture, and prejudice to restrict our service. A lost and dying world needs all of us. In fact, where you find a true, Godly passion for evangelizing those without Christ, you are much more likely to find gender equality. It’s in those churches and institutions for whom evangelism is a low priority that gender hierarchies remain comfortably maintained.

And yes, that includes Doug Wilson’s Christ Church. Wilson has decried revivalism, altar calls, and the “get saved” culture of evangelicalism. You really ought to check out that part of his theology, which has become somewhat muted as he’s rocketed into the lower stratosphere of media celebrity. I think you’ll find it eye-opening.

Finally, by the way, I believe Paul really did mean what he said in Corinthians about man being the “head” of the woman as God is the “head” of Christ — the Greek, kephale, is far more often used in secular koine Greek, and interpreted by most fair-minded translators, as “source,” in the way that God “begat” Jesus and thus was his “source,” and Eve was taken from Adam’s own flesh, making him her “source.” Surely to God — and I mean this as a prayer — you’re not suggesting that “head” is a “boss/subordinate” position, which would be horrendous theology and worse practice, insofar as women would then need to obey the men in power over them. I can’t think of a worse, more perverse, picture of the Trinity, nor a worse, more vicious, model for human relationships.

I wonder if perhaps you read what you want into my writing, rather than read what I actually write. Nonetheless, be assured that when I write “Spirit-given gifts,” I mean just that: Gifts given women and men by the only Spirit who can truly empower us for a lifetime of loving, humble, steadfast, courageous service in the name of and for the glory of Almighty God.

Finally, let me ask you a question. I just heard from my dear friend and sister, Lupita, who has been asked to pastor a small church in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, upon the retirement of Pastor Trinidad, a man who served for 53 years. Lupita is a former Bible college administrator and professor who has served on the mission field in Mexico and in Spain and who has helped plant numerous churches in Mexico. She is a conservative, evangelical Wesleyan minister, a gifted musician, and one of the strongest Bible teachers I’ve ever met. She is single, never-married, and filled with the Holy Spirit, whose gifts in her life are abundant. Her character is impeccable, her witness steadfast, and her courage remarkable. Where Lupita goes, lives are changed for Christ Jesus.

I’d like you to tell me why she shouldn’t be doing what she does, and how the Kingdom (I mean here the Kingdom of God) benefits if she doesn’t.

Casting Crowns Of A DIfferent Sort

Friday, July 30th, 2010

A powerful take on a regrettable Christian fad:

(From Christians For Biblical Equality)
“The word ‘princess’ seems to be taking over Christian pop culture and women’s ministry in the days since the Captivating craze. Every fall when I go to women’s retreats, I usually have to set aside a junk drawer just for the storage of plastic crowns that I receive, until I can donate them to a daycare. They’re usually a prop adding to a self-esteem related talk —- an assurance that all women are beautiful. The plastic prop (or Burger King cardboard cut-out) accompanies the oft-heard, conviction-free reminder: you are a princess because your Father is the king of kings.

“Semantically speaking, I suppose there’s some logic to that. ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’ (1 John 3:1, TNIV). By all means we are children of a king, and given an unbelievable gift of grace and adoption through him. And likewise I fully support women abandoning the pursuit of the Cosmopolitan perception of beauty and pursuing their worth in higher callings. But what are we to do with that funny pop-culture word “princess,” and all the princess paraphernalia for sale in Christian bookstores? Does God ever call his female servants that?

“The word ‘princess’ fundamentally encourages a fascination with ourselves -— namely, a confidence in our own talent, beauty, and importance. The problem with this is that the thrust of the New Testament, while celebrating the fact that God loves and accepts us, calls us to look outside ourselves. The Law and the Prophets hang on the commandment to love God and our neighbors. Loving ourselves, Scripture suggests, is something we already do well on our own (Matt. 22:37-40).

“Furthermore, our extraordinary relationship with God makes us royal, but not in a way that makes marketable t-shirts. Women are not princesses but ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Pet. 2:9). Being a priest is a hard, high-responsibility calling that has been extended to every member of the church regardless of his or her gender. God has given us a new identity, and the hard work that comes with it is incompatible with the self-absorbed gospel of self-esteem that comes in the fairy tale packaging of a crown and the promise of princesshood.

When Paul speaks of love, he reminds us that when he grew up, he put childish ways behind him (1 Cor. 13:11). And when the elders worship at the throne of God, they take off their crowns and lay them before him (Rev. 4:10). Playing pretend is all right for little girls, but when we get to the throne of God, it’s time to set aside our playthings and be prepared to worship. It’s time for women to be priests.

(From Christians For Biblical Equality Arise! e-newsletter, July 28, 2010, by Laura Robinson, CBE writing and development intern. Robinson is a senior at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. She is majoring in English/creative writing and religious studies, with a minor in history).

To Whom Are The Spiritual Gifts Given?

Friday, July 30th, 2010

If that’s the question, here’s the answer: To whomever the Spirit wills (1 Cor. 12:11).

So, is there anywhere in the Bible that indicates that the Spirit has given some gifts to men and others to women — anywhere indicating that distribution of the gifts is listed or assigned by gender? There isn’t.

A third question, then — are people responsible for making full use of the spiritual gifts given to them by their Giver?

Of course. We probably should assume a “yes” on this one if we take the first point to be true; ignoring the presence of one’s spiritual gifts demonstrates not just insouciance toward the needs of those who would benefit from them, but also shows contempt for the One who gives them. Nonetheless, Paul discusses the imperative to be good stewards of the gifts given to us in 1 Corinthians 12, where he delineates the specific gifts and discusses them most comprehensively; 1 Corinthians 14:1; and also, arguably, in his letters to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14 and 2 Tim. 1:6, where Paul admonishes his young protege to nurture, and certainly not neglect, the spiritual gift Paul acknowledged in him through the laying on of hands).

If we can demonstrate, then, that God gives all of the spiritual gifts to anyone, male or female, God chooses to give them to, then we have to conclude that, at least as far as a New Testament discussion of the gifts, there is no such thing as “women’s gifts” and “men’s gifts.” In fact, Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor. 12 follows a lengthy discussion in Ch. 11 regarding women’s head coverings, a confusing passage that nonetheless, en toto, affirms the prophesying woman and echoes much of the mutuality found so markedly in Ch. 7.

Further, Paul has ample opportunity in Ch. 12 to caution the reader that women need to stay away from exercising some of the gifts, or that they cannot have been given some of the gifts in the first place — indeed, it would seem he ought to, if gender-based giftedness is a reality. And in some of the three or four other Pauline verses that appear, at face value and apart from context, to restrict women in exercising their gifts, he also doesn’t suggest that the gifts were distributed on the basis of gender.

The clear testimony of Scripture is that the Holy Spirit, in building and strengthening the Church of Jesus Christ, has poured out the gifts on those women and men he chooses — and he expects them to nurture them, exercise them faithfully, and encourage their expression in others. This pouring out is part of the prophecy of Joel, the “new thing” of Isaiah, and the promise of Pentecost. But a handful of other verses, read at face value and considered apart from both cultural context, have been used to trump not just the overwhelming testimony of Scripture regarding the gifts — the element that most determines who serves in what capacity in the local Church — but also the clear testimony of gender equality in the New Testament that I’ve discussed previously.

This violates what every first-year Bible student knows, and that’s that a basic principle of hermeneutics — the academic discipline of interpreting Scripture — insists that unclear or seemingly aberrant passages of the Bible be interpreted in light of more clear testimony. It’s for this reason that, despite what James 2:14-27 clearly teaches, no Bible teacher would teach that works are essential to my salvation or yours. Now, we know that without appropriate works, we might question the genuineness of faith demonstrated by a professed believer, and do so with reason — but no Bible-believing evangelical believes that our salvation is appropriated via a combination of faith and works, which is what James says at first reading (cf. v. 14, where the answer to the question “Can faith save him?” is clearly intended to be “no,” as evidenced by the remainder of the text). We understand that James is making a point, and those of his statements seemingly at odds with the soteriology wrought by the rest of the Word are viewed in that light. Likewise, I have never met an evangelical preacher who insisted, like Paul does in 1 Cor., that men and women are better off not marrying; it’s understood that Paul was writing not only as an unmarried man, but as a first-century Apostle who believed the Lord would return very shortly. In both examples, and there are many more, the culture and intent of the passage and not its seemingly aberrant doctrine or teaching is the consideration that guides our understanding.

(I would add Paul’s position on slavery as another example, but the question of slaveholding seems yet to be fully resolved for some of my neighbors in Moscow. Fortunately, those who understand context, culture, hermeneutics and history probably get my point . . .)

Why, then, do we insist that a few verses from Paul, all of which have alternate Bible-affirming, scholarly, and evangelical interpretations, trump the astonishing, revolutionary fullness of our Lord’s Gospel of reconciliation, restoration, and renewal? Can we really argue that the enmity predicted by God in Genesis between men and women is the one aspect of the Fall that the Gospel can’t, or shouldn’t, or hasn’t, overcome?

And why have other New Testament writers not placed these restrictions on women in ministry, if, as complementarians would have us believe, the absence of those restrictions strikes at the very heart of the Gospel? Why did Jesus not only NOT say anything — not one word — about limiting gifted women in their service, but actually demonstrate a pattern of inclusive behavior towards them that was nothing short of shocking? For that matter, why did Paul, if he was so insistent on women’s differing — and unchangeably subordinate — roles in the work of the Gospel, talk so favorably about women as leaders of the home churches, or Junia as an apostle, or Priscilla and other women as co-laborers with him and other men? Isn’t it at least somewhat likely that his words in 1 Timothy 2 were a one-time prohibition given out of concern for the excesses of the Gnosticism that had begun to seep into the Ephesian Church, a Gnosticism that at times elevated women above men, featured gross immorality on the part of men and women, and caused Christianity to be seen as unremittingly wild and uncontrolled by the non-Gnostics in Ephesus?

Men and women who honestly seek to understand what the Word really does teach about gender equality will ask these questions — and seek answers from sources other than Piper, Grudem, Wilson, Bayly, and Sproul Sr. Men and women who’d rather stick to what they’ve always believed to be true, won’t. That’s their right, I suppose. But I have to ask my complementarian brothers — do you really think, in light of the discussion above, that you can rightly insert yourself between any woman, the Holy Spirit, and the gifts and calling he’s given her?

Because with all due respect, and in all charity, you’re unqualified to restrict the exercise of what God has given your sisters. If blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is, as some exegetes teach, the attributing to Satan of the Spirit’s works, your denying his call on a woman’s life is, if not quite itself unforgivable, then certainly a little too close for comfort. And any woman who loves the Lord and who loves you, as I do, would hate to see that.

Masculine Christianity, Protectionist Gospel — Why, Haven’t We Seen This Before?

Friday, July 30th, 2010

We’ve established that the Spiritual Fruit described in Galatians 5 is not essentially feminine or masculine in origin or in practice. Yet a Church insecure sees “feminization” wherever the Fruit is clearly evidenced without accompanying growls of chest-thumping masculinity — a reaction to a fallen culture that sees gentle behaviors as ineffably feminine. This results in the tragi-comic insistence in some conservative Christian quarters that the enemy of the Church is feminization, that the Church isn’t “appropriately male” in its witness. And so efforts to confront and constrain any hint of the feminine have led to calls for a more muscular Christianity — not a prophetic, courageous Christianity, but a macho, tough-guy Christianity that, under the guise of “evangelism,” lures men into embracing a crude masculinity that does violence to the Fruit freely offered by the Spirit and isn’t terribly helpful to the very guys it purports to care for.

This was bad theory and worse theology when first rolled out in the Victorian era in England and the United States, when male pastors and evangelists decried what they saw as the soft nature of the Church’s missionary efforts, cultural engagement, and refined social ethos. The reality that women empowered by the Holy Spirit were leading revivals, pastoring churches, and engaging in social reform efforts alongside — and sometimes apart from — men prompted unregenerate men to avoid all things Christian, and encouraged regenerate men to sabotage, mock, and hinder the work of their sisters because of it. The former were too steeped in sin to receive the message of the Gospel; the latter were too steeped in sin to recognize a great move of God occurring right under their robust, manly moustaches. And while cage fighting and Superhuman Feats Of Astonishing Musculature were not yet part of the prevailing culture, the mistaken belief that male insecurity stems from women’s strength and not male sin led to fervent efforts to toughen up the Church. By the beginning of the 20th century, denominations that had freely encouraged and availed themselves of women’s leadership gifts caved in to culture and began restricting their sisters and coddling the menfolk around them. Whose masculinity was somehow toughened by their doing so.

There truly is nothing new under the sun, and the growth of Biblical understanding of gender equality in the Church has traditionalist men chafing in their Dockers. Like their forefathers a century or so before, they fear a Church feminine. They seek to bring unsaved men into the fold not by seeking Holy Spirit change within the men, but change, instead, within the Church, and they too often do so with patronizing, lugubrious assurances that a Church that allows women to lead is a Church that showers contempt on its sisters. And because these patriarchs believe it’s their place to protect me and others like me — while protecting strong men from me and others like me — they work to deny the Spirit’s gifting in our lives so that we don’t mistakenly wander off the path or, worse, barge through doors never meant to be opened to us.

It sounds so noble, and noble in the same way as those Southern slaveholders who worked against abolition because their slaves just weren’t able to function on their own, and noble in the manner of men opposed to women’s suffrage because politics, filthy and conniving as it is, could only lead to hysteria.

Which is to say, not noble at all.

It’s for our own good, apparently — or that’s what uber-patriarch Tim Bayly and his buds would have us all believe. I’ll discuss Bayly’s condescending and, much more important, Biblically erroneous contention that women cannot serve freely in ecclesiastical leadership positions, but, having discussed the gender-neutral Fruit of the Holy Spirit, I’d like next to reflect on the gender-neutral distribution and nature of the gifts of the Spirit.

Spiritual Fruit — Masculine? Feminine? Or Simply Christlike?

Monday, July 26th, 2010

“The church’s tendency to define and highlight gender distinctions between men and women, both in its structure and teachings, often leave us with confusing, harmful, and unbiblical understandings of masculinity, femininity, and Christian virtues.”

(Lisa Baumert, Wheaton College, quoted in Arise e-magazine, July 14, 2010)

Nowhere is this more true than in discussions of the Spiritual fruit described in Galatians 5, the preaching of which is part of every pastor’s arsenal and the actual demonstration of which often cause for great consternation, insofar as genuine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, mercy and self-control appear the primary culprit in what masculinists lament as the “feminization” of the Church.

In her discussion of the arbitrary, culturally-conditioned designations of the masculine and the feminine within the life of the Body, Baumert continues with an evaluation of the “macho Jesus” heralded by pastors who decry this “feminization.” Unfortunately for them and for the Gospel, “feminization” is what they seem to think happens when a Church reflects the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, the Biblical evidence of a Spirit-filled life too seen these days as ineffably “soft” when expressed corporately. And masculinist pastors join their congregations, as Baumert notes, in blindly assigning these characteristics to the “feminine” side of both the human heart and the church aisle, leaving a vacuum for corresponding “masculine” fruit of their own design. These guardians of Godly masculinity leap on the fear of looking less than masculine, hoping to stanch this perceived flow of the feminine in our sanctuaries and multi-purpose rooms, Bible studies and sacraments. This, as if most of the problems in the world didn’t somehow stem from an excessive, warped masculinity, just as most men’s sinfulness is manifested in an imbalance of the masculine and a diminishment of the feminine that inevitably results in a rejection of the truly Christlike. A guy might be confronted by his brothers in his struggle with pornography or rebuked for his crude treatment of his wife, but he generally remains in the “guy fold” as long as he steadfastly avoids the too-exuberant embrace of his accountability partner or the insightful, public examination of his emotional hurts.

This is what leads to Cage-Fighting For Jesus, evangelism via phone-book ripping, and anguished cries for a church experience that’s “relevant” to guys, men whose ineffable dudeship must be respected — so say the masculinist pastors — before we can ever hope to have them follow the Lord, Savior, and Guy-Christ of the Bible. (In response to concerns that cage-fighting is gratuitously violent and therefore an inappropriate pasttime for Christian men, which would have seemed evident in Christ’s day, one Tough Guy Pastor insists that because the word originates from “violation,” it’s not “violent” when two buds willingly go at it ’til one of them is down; it’s only a “violation” if someone beats the crap out of another guy without his OK, a distinction lost both to common sense and a confused world).

But this insistence that men find the Church too soft, too gentle, too girly, puts those pastors terrified of the feminine in a real bind. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t an option for the believer; it isn’t a persona donned for Sunday mornings along with khakis, sweater vests, and Merrells. The Word says that the Fruit is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working in the believer’s life, male and female, and is an expected product of Christian maturity; that a clear demonstration, much less an abundance, of this Fruit looks “feminine” to some pastors, instead of looking simply “Christian,” leads to desperate attempts either to re-cast the Fruit as “masculine,” or add to the God-breathed list other characteristics more familiar to The Dudes Among Us. This presumably is necessary so that men don’t turn into effeminate, sentimental pushovers who, if not themselves ashamed of the Gospel, nonetheless bring shame to their testosterone-drunk pastors, who take an odd sort of pride in their determination never to hug other guys lest they look fruity rather than fruitful.

Unfortunately, a “masculine” expression of love, or joy, or patience, or kindness, looks astonishingly like . . . well, every other expression of love, joy, patience and kindness. The Fruit — the term must be kept in the singular; it’s not a smorgasbord — isn’t gender-specific, nor is it gender-differentiated. The circumstances might be, but the expression itself isn’t. My husband might demonstrate kindness to someone in need by changing their tire; I might cook them a meal. Sometimes, Jeff might extend an embrace, while I might offer necessary rebuke. Neither of us then experiences a weakening or wavering of our inherent ontology. We’re just acting like Jesus, who sometimes acted less than what we see now as masculine, what with the tears, the maternal imagery, the reclining on the breast of the disciple, and that sort of thing.

It’s safe to say that Jesus would not make other guys today feel comfortable, unless, of course, they re-design him according to a template not from the Word but from the world — less Nazarene, more NASCAR, perhaps.

The masculinist pastors have a problem, and the solution often involves rounding up muscle-bound Christian guys to tear up phone books on the altar while pastors pepper their sermons with tavern-appropriate swear words, Mark Driscoll-style. Under the guise of “saving guys’ souls,” they carefully hammer the message of the Gospel into a tool that respects masculinity and looks little like Christianity. What’s wrought by a masculinist ecclesiology, a macho evangelism, is something that highlights the tough, just because it’s tough, rather than highlighting the Christlike — in the same way wrenches or saws won’t ever be mistaken for tweezers or nail files, and are assumed to always be the better tools whose use, regardless of the job, is always deemed the better choice.

May God be praised that this sinful world offers myriad opportunities to demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit. Some will present themselves more readily, because of situations and not ontology, to women than to men — and vice-versa. Nonetheless, we are not at liberty to re-define the list of Spiritual Fruit, nor add to it more “masculine” traits so that men feel at home. God spoke clearly on this one; he speaks just as clearly every time a man demonstrates peace, self-control, patience and goodness without regard to how his behavior corresponds to societal views of masculinity. That sort of behavior reminds him, I think, of his own Son.

Pastors who worry about how to get guys into church and how to get them to stay even when there’s a game on need to remember that no spiritual good ever came from attracting men by assuring them that their sinful traits aren’t cause for repentance but are, in reality, just hallmarks of being guys. We don’t evangelize the thief by promising him a dip in the treasury, nor seek the porn addict by offering free Wi-Fi. In the same way, it’s wrong — not just poor evangelism, but dead wrong — to try to attract men by highlighting a supposed masculinity that mirrors the “culture gone haywire” of the Fall rather than true Christian character.

On Love, Submission, Patriarchy And Government

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

I intend tomorrow to get back to Tim Bayly and his patently absurd, and absurdly patronizing, contention that the elevation of women to leadership positions in the Church is evidence of contempt for them, but Ashwin’s most recent comment on yesterday’s post deserves a brief response.

My valued correspondent, and he is that regardless of our profound disagreements, says that Doug Wilson and I are similar in linking all manner of ills to existing social structures — for him, government; for me, patriarchy — and that we want to abolish them both. I don’t know that Ashwin has perfectly captured Wilson’s views, but I’ve correctly, I think, summarized his own view of them. Ashwin then insists that I disagree with the Ephesians 5 commandment that women submit to their husbands, a subject I’ve written much about before but which deserves a brief re-visit.

First, I’m all for submission, because the Bible says I must be. And, in fact, I don’t believe there’s enough of it in the Church, in the home, and in society as a whole. I’m in favor of love, too, which the Bible also commands. It seems absurd to have to even say that love, as opposed to cursing, hate, indifference, and violence, is good. So let’s assume we’re all clear on that. This feminist woman argues strenuously for Biblical submission, and regularly submits to her husband.

And he regularly submits to her, and both of them regularly, freely, submit to the clerk at Safeway, their son, the neighbor down the street, and our best friends and perfect strangers. Because the Bible tells us so. When we don’t, we sin.

Ephesians 5 calls first for every believer to submit in love to every other believer; the verse sets the context for those that follow, if standard hermeneutical practice and not cultural conditioning dictates our approach to Scripture. It then calls for women to submit to their own husbands, and for husbands to love their own wives. The foundation in the text is mutual submission; the detail is offered in terms of gender division, with emphasis on submission given for wives and love mandated for husbands.

And yet do we really want to argue, especially in light of the preceding verse (v. 21) that commands All believers to submit MUTUALLY, that ONLY wives (not all women, just wives) submit, and submit ONLY to their husbands (not all men, never any women)?

Is it sane, reasonable, and coherent — never mind Biblical — to argue that ONLY husbands (not just men) are to love, and to love ONLY their wives (and not other women, never showing Christian love to anyone else)? If ONLY wives are to submit, then ONLY men, not women, are to exercise love in their marriages.

Is it Christian marriage, really, if Dave loves Annie — but never submits to her? Or if Annie submits to Dave, but is freed from having to love him? Are they doing what’s required if they reign submission and love in, reserving both for their marriages? What kind of Church community would we have — what kind of witness would the Church have to the world — if we operate under carefully drawn lines of submission and love instead of freely submitting, freely loving, and placing our hope only in the One who empowers us to do so? Biblical submission is never “Biblical” if it’s anything less than fully, lovingly offered, which would argue against the lockstep, gender-divided interpretation Ashwin seems to favor.

As if it really mattered, Wilson is quick to reassure squeamish readers that he’s not one of those men who believes all men ought to be submitted to by all women, and to readers unaware of either Wilson’s rhetorical technique or of Scripture, it does seem to be a relief. But what sounds like a defense of women’s rights is actually more restrictive for women, not less. Women only have one boss, not an entire gender full, he says. He’d pity the guy who asks his daughter to go get a cup of coffee for her, because, he says, she only HAS TO do that for her own husband, not just for any guy.

Me? I’d gladly get it for him, and put in the sugar and cream, too. I’d do it because I want to — because I want to honor God — and my volition, not compunction, is what would make my coffee-getting truly an example of Biblical submission. I’d hope he’d get me some, too, but my choice to submit to his request is mine, energized by my love for Christ and not by the other man’s gender.

As far as my desire to “abolish” patriarchy and what Ashwin sees as Wilson’s to “abolish” government, my response is that while government is ordained by God, patriarchy isn’t. Patriarchy is a result of the Fall, a perversion of the good and perfect world God created in Eden, and its overthrow is one of the resurrection victories won for men and for women through Christ. There’s no comparison. While Fall-ordained patriarchy, even in its mildest forms, is the root cause of all violence and hate suffered by women, government is established by God, neutral in its existence and good or bad only in its execution. The difference is crucial and, to me, screamingly evident.

Tomorrow I plan to respond more to Bayly and his and other complementarians’ belief that the creation order of Genesis establishes and requires the continuation of gender inequality, patriarchy, and specific gender roles involving not ontology, but Spirit gifting. As a warm-up, I’d like to ask you to consider why no list of the Spiritual gifts in the New Testament indicates that they are given in a gender-specific manner, and why the three or four Pauline verses that appear to bar women from leadership positions in the Church trump for complementarians the rich, profound, clear testimony of Scripture regarding the full and liberating message of the Gospel.

Patching together a theology by prooftext apart from context is easy; the true testimony of the Bible, profound and wholistic, is quite simple. Christ came to set the captives free — free from their own sin first, then free from the sins committed against them. We can choose to participate in the sin or in the freedom, but we cannot pretend Christ is found in both places.

Why It’s A Justice Issue, Apart From My Not Liking Incense

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Ashwin’s comments to yesterday’s post, with my responses following. I’ve deleted some of his comments for space; their entirety is in the comments section:

Ashwin — “I don’t agree that women’s ministry is a justice issue. Even if it is, it is not the most pressing justice issue in this broken world. And even if it were, it does not do for a Christian to demand his own rights. Christ has already glorified women as well as men. But Christ is male. He referred to God as Father. The Holy Spirit is also referred to as male by our Lord.”

Keely — It’s a pressing justice issue not only because all gender violence starts with gender discrimination, with patriarchy at its root. I am not seeking a pastorate for myself, but I’d like to think my brothers would demonstrate their love for me and for truth by defending my and every other woman’s Spirit-given call on her life. To do less is to insert oneself between the Almighty and one’s sister as judge, a position I’m sure you would argue is indefensible in the Church. As for the male designation of the Trinity, I’ll cover that later.

Ashwin — “What you should be doing is teaching men how to think like women. What you are doing is teaching women to aspire to be men.”

Keely — If you believe that the spiritual fruit in Galatians 5, the evidence of a vital relationship with Jesus, is “feminine,” you’ll be interested in my next post. But “teaching men how to think like women” isn’t such a bad idea; I would hope no woman aspires to be like any man other than Jesus. But to the extent that you’re correct in calling for a more gentle Church, you’d be accused here of being an effeminate, sentimental wimp calling for the feminization of the Church. I’d defend you, even if I didn’t agree with you!

Ashwin — “You are barking up the wrong tree. The way to end the abuses of the patriarchy is not to tackle them head-on. The way to tackle their abuses is to pray for them. The Holy Spirit will tackle them head on. We must preach Christ crucified on the streets. And that is enough. Railing against ‘male domination’ and ‘injustice and iniquity’ is right and proper if the Holy Spirit compels one – as He did the prophets of old. But to develop a systematic ideology devoted to vituperation is quite sad.”

Keely — The Holy Spirit compels every believer to rail against injustice and iniquity, which is hardly exclusive of prayer, evangelism, worship, and service to others. We are to expose deeds of darkness, be salt and light, speak truth, and witness for Christ’s liberating Gospel, a Gospel that defeats sin, reconciles humankind to God, and restores the believer. This isn’t a “systematic ideology devoted to vituperation.” This is a full-blown theology that believes that the Gospel preached fully and with power is a conquering, life-changing message that penetrates every aspect of one’s life. I shudder to think that the mandate to make disciples means to keep them ignorant and unconcerned about the lives of those around them — or the unique, unconquerable power of the Holy Spirit to fully remake them.

Ashwin — “If there is injustice, He will make amends. If there is hunger, He will fill. If there is want, He is sufficient. If you think some people and not doing their bit, that does not give you the right to rail against them – for all you know they might be doing much more that you think in secret (as they are supposed to do).”

Keely — The problem is that opponents of gender justice aren’t “doing more in secret” to effect righteousness; they’re actively speaking against justice and for inequality that’s an affront to Christ Jesus. Are we supposed to conduct our ministries in secret, laboring for the Gospel only from our prayer closets? On what basis, then, will the Lord Jesus judge those who were ashamed of his name? There is no Spirit-led courage demonstrated in private. It’s easy to be faithful to Christ in a hostile culture from the safety and anonymity of one’s own home, but the disciple who conducts his walk that way will find, I’m afraid, that the wood, hay, and stubble from which his prayer closet is built is all he has left on the Day (1 Cor. 3:12-15)

Ashwin — “Anyhow, in light of the Living Lord, to demand something as silly as the right to wear a dress and swing incense is quite ridiculous.”

Keely — Well, gosh. The cause of gender justice is lost, I suppose, because I don’t have a suitable dress and incense gives me a headache.

Part Two: Women In Church (This One’s For Ashwin)

Monday, July 19th, 2010

So I get up early this morning to continue my series, prompted by Tim Bayly’s headspinning comments on women in Church leadership, when I find this comment from Ashwin in my Inbox. It bears highlighting apart from the “Comments” section because it touches on three critical points in the debate I had planned on addressing. Indeed, Ashwin has hit a triple without managing to move the debate from first base.

Here’s what my erstwhile correspondent has to say in reference to Part One:

“I wonder why this is important to you. There is plenty of opportunity for women to speak and teach in small groups. There is no need for demanding a formal role of “pastor” or “minister” or such.

Your Biblical case is weak at best. The words written by Paul in 1 Corinthians by themselves shut down your line of reasoning. I don’t know why he wrote as he did, but anyway it does not matter much. What is the tearing hurry to say one’s piece anyway? It can always wait for later.

You have explain why it is so important to have women indistinguishable from men. It is to be right with God or it is to appeal to contemporary culture?

Because from the way you write it does seem that you had made up your mind before you started looking through the Bible for corroboration. That is never a good idea.”
(Ashwin, Prevailing Winds comment, July 19, 2010)

I always appreciate Ashwin’s comments, and I’m struck by how closely his objections mirror the ones I had planned to address today — why the issue is so important, why Biblical egalitarianism is not at all interested in blurring gender identities in the Church, and why my argument for it came over my initial, and strong, objections, objections that gave way to the testimony of Scripture long before they fell to my evangelical culture-steeped mind.

His first question is why on earth this is worth such fuss and bother anyway. Why can’t women be satisfied teaching in small, women-only groups? Why do we agitate for full inclusion in ecclesiastical ministry? Surely, Ashwin suggests, there are more important issues to pursue, and I know he’s not alone in dismissing all of this as just so much extraneous, unnecessary queening by a few of his chronically dissatisfied sisters.

But this — the idea that service in the Church ought to be based on Spirit-gifting, not gender — is fundamentally a justice issue; secondarily, it’s one of the Body’s effectiveness in living and sharing the Gospel. Unfortunately, my Moscow readers have been saturated over the years with Wilsonian teachings that provide a primer on how to avoid “doing justice.” Virtually every “justice” issue now facing the Church — poverty, war, environmental issues, racism — has been subject to treatises that counsel the disciple in ways to shrug off any particular imperative to adjust his or her behavior and beliefs in service of the greater social good, all in the name of robust Reformed theology and clearheaded Christian engagement with the world. Even something as simple and universally applauded as attempting to eat locally-grown, healthier food, both for environmental and for physical benefit, is subject to derision and dismissal. Frankly, those who have followed Wilson’s teachings on women, their roles, and the joys of Christian patriarchy likely see righteousness in gender relations as a justice issue only insofar as my constant harping on it unfairly annoys them.

But if the Christ disciple is charged with doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with his God (Micah 6:8), then clearly seeking, living, and fighting for justice is a Christian imperative. If any group is discriminated against, that’s a wrong that the Church must object to. Vehemently. And if any group faces discrimination inside the sanctuary in serving the God who calls them, the Church must repent. May it never be that Christ’s own Body refuses to cooperate with — in fact, fights against — the Holy Spirit who indwells it, gifting women and men with spiritual gifts defined and distributed not by gender, but by his own good counsel. Even if there were no “real-world” consequences to this battle against the Spirit, and of course injustice and unrighteousness are never without toxic effect, gender discrimination in Church and society is a fundamental justice issue, as repugnant to the testimony of Galatians 3:28 (“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”) as if Jews or poor people were barred from leadership positions in the Church. We wouldn’t stand for it. We ought not stand for this.

But the Church’s “two-thirds only” adherence to the New Testament’s message of inclusion and freedom described in Galatians 3:28 has enormous consequences. There is the terrible reality of a Church limping along in this world with a masculine mind that displays just one aspect of the One in whose image, male and female, all of humanity is created, denying itself and the world around it the riches of all that God is and fueling disregard, even hatred, of women as “less than.” Instead, the Body of Christ does its work in this world with one hand tied behind its back, fully making use of the Spiritual gifts of only half of its members while those same gifts — distributed by the will of the Spirit, not by gender — languish for lack of full expression in the women to whom they were given. It’s not at all hard to imagine the applause of Satan as he witnesses the Church engaged in full-on battle at only half strength. But where Satan exults, the Lord Jesus mourns.

Next, Ashwin mentions what he takes as my interest in making men and women “indistinguishable” from each other via Biblical egalitarianism. In this, he and other complementarians confuse ontology with gifting, denying the full expression of all that God has for his Church. In doing so, they betray a healthy, Biblical understanding of the inviolable identity of women and men and the richness that results from their full development as Spirit-led, Christ-serving disciples. Those of us who believe the Word teaches the full inclusion of women in all positions in the Church, as well as their full expression in the home and society, have no interest whatsoever in blurring the lines of gender identity. We seek to encourage the Body to do justice as it walks, and walks humbly, with our God, and we see gender-role segregation in the Church as unBiblical. But this is a discussion of roles, positions and opportunities that ought to correspond to a person’s gifts, not gender; it’s an issue of eliminating gender segregation in Church service, not gender itself. The full image of God in humankind, male and female, requires that every woman live and serve in the joy and strength of full Spirit-power — as women, defined by sex in their ontology and by gifting in their service. Likewise, every Christian man ought to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit by serving freely where he’s gifted, relieved of obligations and rules of “maleness” that conflict with his own Spirit-gifting.

If “the glory of God is man fully alive,” then glorious, too, is “woman fully alive.” The aims of Biblical egalitarianism insist on celebrating the ontological differences and diversity in the Body — while making sure that no one, slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female, be denied the full expression of the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them. Nothing in Galatians 3:28 requires the homogenization of the Church, and everything in Galatians 3:28 insists that the Body of Christ never be satisfied with witnessing at only two-thirds strength.

Finally, Ashwin chastises me for coming to a social or political conclusion, then trying to find Biblical support in favor of it. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I wish that Ashwin knew me personally, knew of my own theological and religious journey, before judging me so freely. He would be surprised, I think, to learn that my egalitarianism came to me only after doing battle with my tendency to be lead by the Church, by evangelical culture, and not by the teaching of Scripture. It’s true that I was a feminist when I came to Christ some 30 years ago; it’s also true that, trying to fit in and be Super Disciple, I jettisoned my beliefs and stuck to the rigid teaching of rigid gender roles that permeated the rigid community I found myself. My Navigators discipler had warned me that the “former things” of my life, like feminism, had no place in my new, evangelical, conservative world. Anyone who’s ever been discipled by a Navigator knows not to argue. So I determined, as most young believers do, to be the most correct new Christian as humanly possible, which, looking back, was the problem; human power, no matter how earnest and energetic, won’t benefit the Christian life. In fact, it’s a guarantee of spiritual shipwreck, and — mixing metaphors here for a moment — I soon found myself shipwrecked and moored on the dusty desert sands of Tucson’s evangelical community.

I did all the right stuff. I worked hard, and I worked hard relying on God’s grace long before I simply rested in it. But something kept bothering me, and it wasn’t resurgent sin, or politics, in my life; they were pretty much considered to be the same thing. It felt like a rock in my shoe, something that vexed and hampered but didn’t quite cripple me in my walk with the Lord. I was able to journey far in my spiritual growth, memorizing my verses, getting baptized, attending twice-weekly Bible study and doggedly keeping to my morning “quiet time.” By all outward appearances, it looked like my conversion “took” — I was growing alongside my newly-saved peers, convincing my Bible study teacher, discipler, and church friends that I was, indeed, able to escape the liberalism, feminism, activism and other -isms that had marked my former, unsaved life. I was conforming to the image of Young Evangelical Woman, unaware that that had little to do with being conformed by the Spirit to the image and character of Jesus Christ. And it was in my personal devotions, my intimate walk with the Lord Jesus, that this “rock in my shoe” seemed to hamper me the most.

I knew that I had certain spiritual gifts, even before I took the C. Peter Wagner inventory thereof; I had experienced, and had affirmed by others, gifts of prophecy, teaching, and evangelism. What I thought was just my personality, just “being Keely,” was clearly the presence of God’s gifts in my life — I spoke well, taught well, and, as one pastor put it, exercised the gift of prophecy in “seeing what others don’t want to see, and saying what others don’t think they can.” The Lord brought me instance after instance where the gift he’d given me to “say the hard stuff” was evident, and so was the fruit. But no one could help me reconcile what everyone taught, what everyone said the Bible said, with what God was doing in my life, and I despaired of ever being able to be fully yielded to God, who, it seemed, had given me gifts it would be sinful to use. My gifts had become stumbling blocks; I felt like a sprinter invited to race and yet penalized for competing.

A decade or so into my Christian life, I decided to serve God with all I had, including with all he’d given me — even though I didn’t understand how to reconcile what the Bible apparently said with what I knew, and knew with all my heart and had confirmed by Bible-believing, God-fearing, Spirit-filled men and women, that God had set before me in ministry. (This was in the 1990s, when I began my one-woman ministry to Mexican immigrants in the Snohomish County area of Western Washington; I later co-pastored, with another woman, a Spanish-language church until moving to Moscow in 2002). Like creation and evolution, or eschatology or speaking in tongues, it was an example of different things, both true, that seemed to conflict or that I didn’t understand. God worked through me in my ministry; I saw tremendous fruit, all glory for which is his and his alone. We moved to Moscow. Finally, though, after a disastrously hurtful, savage encounter in 2004 with an elder at a Moscow church, the Lord brought me to Christians for Biblical Equality and my first exposure to thoroughly evangelical, conservative, feminist/egalitarian Bible scholarship.

It was like finding grapes in the desert, receiving a balm to my soul, and taking pure oxygen into my heaving, parched lungs.

Much of what I learned I’ve discussed in Prevailing Winds. There is much more to discuss, much more to learn and to share. But I call myself an evangelical feminist, and see Jesus as an evangelical feminist, entirely because of my study of the Scriptures. My evolution as an egalitarian involved — necessitated — my repentance for having thrown myself early on into conforming to Christian culture, not to Christ himself. The yearning for justice and equality that my parents had instilled in me, the desire I had early in life to live passionately for a cause with eternal meaning, was not, it turned out, something to be jettisoned. It wasn’t a phase; it wasn’t the clinging filth of pre-conversion sin. It was the nascent seeds of Spirit-gifting stirring in my life, even in the dry, toxic soil I was cultivating before I came to Christ. It was Truth — truth, justice, and the Jesus Way, not the “truth, justice, and the American way” my early Christian experience had substituted for life in Christ. And since I discovered — thanks be to God — the true testimony of Scripture in regards to gender roles and equality, I have developed an even deeper reverence for Scripture, an even more profound devotion to the Word. If it required a break from conservative American Christiandom, then so be it. Because when the Spirit illumines the Word, plants it in your heart, and nurtures its growth, you can’t go back to pruning it so as to please Lori, the Navigator.

If there were a common town square all of my readers were gathered in, and a rooftop and megaphone made available to me, I would shout it out: If the Scriptures teach it, if the Lord commands it, if the Spirit illumines it, I will follow it, and follow it unabashedly and proclaim it passionately. The Lord has done that for me when it comes to gender roles in the Church, showing me that it is, at its core, a justice issue for the Church. The continuation of rigid gender roles in Church, home, and society is the continuation of Satan’s illegitimate, ugly involvement in our world. Christ came to restore and reconcile, reversing the curse of sin in our hearts and in our lives. The Enemy loathes reconciliation and restoration, but he certainly welcomes the cooperation of the Church in its own weakening.

Why the Church clings so desperately to a sin-sodden, curse-captured framework of gender relationships is a mystery to me. There’s no suspense, however, in what the Lord requires, and walking humbly and with mercy alongside my God requires that I walk in gender justice, according to the Scriptures. I’ve had many a taste of walking in “justice” apart from the Word, and I know the difference — perhaps markedly more than my complementarian audience could possibly understand.

Part Three, back to Tim Bayly, should be up by Wednesday — stay tuned!

Part One: Women As Leaders In The Church (For Tim)

Friday, July 16th, 2010

I’ve been preparing a major refutation of Wilson ally and evangelical patriarchy defender Tim Bayly’s contention that only a church that holds women in contempt would ever allow them to be elevated to positions of church leadership. Bayly, like most complementarians, contends that the creation order of Genesis 1 and 2 dictates that God always intended women to be subordinate to men. Egalitarian evangelical scholars disagree, and, in my view, make a far better Biblical case — the only case that matters — than the complementarians. Yeah, we’ve covered this before, but it’s clearly an issue that will continue — although I have to say that equating women’s ecclesiastical freedom with contempt is truly a novel approach that begs a response.

A good way to begin, then, would be to acknowledge that the issue of women in the church is not a new thing. Not only has the church for centuries debated the proper ecclesiastical role of women, and usually much more irenically than Bayly, but women also have been serving as leaders in Christian churches since its inception. The question of women in church leadership, much less the reality of women deacons, bishops, priests, pastors, and planters, is not, as complementarians would lead us to believe, a symptom of a feminism-influenced Christendom skipping daintily from the decadent 1970s. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit has gifted women for such roles and enabled them to serve since Pentecost. It’s the vitriol against them that, in recent decades, has increased to a point that it tragically mirrors the craven, mean-spirited, dubious morality of the world.

So I’ll open my series with this quote from an evangelical scholar and seminarian — not because all historical reality confirms Scriptural teaching, but because historical truths disprove the contention that it’s all the fault of feminist women, feminine men, and a feminized Church. As it happens, though, the words that follow are a compelling historical testimony that comports with the teaching of Scripture, and as a woman who’s been a pastor, evangelist, and teacher, I found them to be full of grace.

And so, in memory of Junia the apostle, Phoebe the deacon, Lydia and Chloe the overseers, and Priscilla the teacher . . .

“A major reason against women as head pastors is that we have no history of them serving as such in the early church. They are a modern innovation, and therefore suspect! But is this true? The archaeological material begins about the time the New Testament canon was being completed; it includes frescoes, mosaics, sculpture, and tomb inscriptions (in Latin and Greek) attesting to women as synagogue leaders, prophets, stewards, deacons, presbyters, and overseers.”

Dorothy Irvin, Th.D, University of Tuebingen, Germany

Explaining The Parable (Allegory, Illustration, Story)

Monday, July 5th, 2010

This won’t make sense until you read the post that precedes it — the one about fires, trucks, and firefighters . . . and if, like Ashwin, you don’t like it or get my points, this might help. I just wanted to incubate it all for a day or so.

The first firefighter represents those in the Church who are terribly busy and utterly immersed in Christian-looking activities, convinced that if idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, a busy DayTimer full of Bible studies, meetings, prayer groups, and “fellowship” activities are a temple, of sorts, to the Lord. Silly activities that take us away from our own families and keep us apart from those who aren’t part of the Church are generally justified by appeals both to “fellowshipping” one with another and, most effectively, an unfortunate exegesis of Scripture. It not only reinforces the clergy/laity distinction, but has people convinced that a true understanding of the spiritual gifts requires excusing ourselves from many immediate, specific ministry opportunities because of our gender, our belief in how we’ve been gifted or not, and a tragic acceptance that we’ll never really be called to something risky.

In that way, it’s like being a firefighter in the hope that if you arrange your professional life just so, you’ll enjoy the prestige and the perks without ever having to risk injury, or viewing the water in your tank as too precious to risk spilling indiscriminately. The situation at hand is indisputable; if you’re a firefighter, your duty to act is, too.

The second firefighter is a picture of angry Christiandom, those in the Church who believe that confronting evil in the name of Christ is the primary imperative of the Gospel-bearing believer. Legitimate concerns about morality, doctrine, and order feed an overly masculine approach to the “war against sin,” unleashing anger and not humility, a preference for letter over Spirit, and a narrow understanding of how God will work rather than an openness to how God might or might not. Confronting sin, then, involves a right understanding that sin is a symptom, not a focus, and is an exercise in futility and an invitation to hate without a parallel, greater concern for offering the healing message of Christ.

It’s like being a firefighter because you hate fire, not because you want to help people caught in its grip. Better to not accept entry into the firehouse if fire is your only interest.

The third firefighter symbolizes the fully-quipped but woefully unprepared disciple who so fears the world that anything more than minimal contact with it is seen as an open door to sin. These are the believers who see avoidance of sin as the primary point of Christian life, which leads them to fear sinners and, not coincidentally, develop a useless, prettied-up form of Christianity utterly impractical, like a firefighter in high-heel suede boots, in engaging with a lost and hurting world. “Righteousness in Christ” is re-cast as a continual challenge to never sin, rather than a reality that equips the believer to openly and confidently navigate through a sinful world.

Being well-trained but unable to perform, and afraid to do so, is like being a firefighter who has to explain to his or her captain why, on a fire call in a fully-equipped tanker, fancy high-heels and a luxury coat, as well as a fear of smelling icky, seemed like a good idea.

So.

The point of my story is that all of us are like firefighters and the world is burning around us. We are fully equipped, well trained, and possess everything we need to extinguish the fire, clean up the mess, and minister to the world around us. But if we fail to engage, fail to love, and fail to take our calling seriously, we contribute to the grief and loss at hand every bit as much as firefighters who drive away from household infernos, trucks and tankers full of the one thing — water — most needed.

I’ll let Ashwin, who commented somewhat negatively on the form of my parable, go on with his analysis of my writing and structure. I think the point I’m making is pretty clear.