Things I Will no Longer Argue About

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I overdid it last week with the bending and the lifting and the stretching and the insomnia. Didn’t mean to. Just happened. With the morning sun came shooting pain in my abdomen and a wicked headache. So I’m in the recliner today, wrapped up in a blanket, watching the minutes tick by. That lovely combination of exhaustion and restlessness that follows surgery settles in. I don’t know if I’m going to have a panic attack, take a nap or give in to the urge for junk food that been poking at me for days. All seem like good options.

Thankfully, I’m just slightly smarter than I have been in the past. A panic attack may come, but it won’t kill me. A nap this late in the day definitely guarantees a sleepless night and I can achieve that without an extra help. Junk food equals liver poison. So I’ve been listening to music that makes me happy. Drinking water. Praying. God reminds me that I’m tougher than I think I am, and 15 days from now I’ll be released fully back into “normal life.”

Maybe you need that reminder today, too. It won’t last forever. You got this.

********

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about.

I know better, but sometimes I take the bait. Briefly got into it with someone over the weekend. Same old argument about women’s roles in the Church. This time, Matthew 15:6-9 was flung at me:

…Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ (NKJV)

Not only was this so far out of context as to be laughable, the point was very clear: If you’re an egalitarian, if you think that women can preach, then you are far from God.

Of course this slap in the face was done “humbly,” in an effort to set me straight.

And I thought, “That’s it. I’m done.”

No longer will I argue about this. Contrary to popular belief, egalitarians take the Bible extremely seriously. We have studied this issue. We are not idiots or “liberals” (I’m not always sure what someone means when they use that term). We love the Lord just as much as complementarians do. I’m not going to waste time defending or justifying or explaining to people who clearly just want to fight. I’m not going to try to reason with people who seriously wonder if a woman should be “allowed” to be in charge of the finances if she’s married.

I’ve also decided that I won’t argue about Calvinism. So done with that. I’m sure my decision was predestined.

Look, it’s possible to talk about these things in a spirit of love and family. It’s possible for us to say, “I disagree with you, but you’re my sister/brother” or “I think you’re completely wrong, but we’re both saved by Christ.” I’ve had interactions of this type and they’re always fun and edifying. I always learn something. I always feel respected. Unfortunately, in my experience, many complementarians and Calvinists (they often go hand in hand, but not always) have taken such a hard line in their positions as of late, especially online, that this type of exchange is next to impossible. I find that extremely sad.

I’m an egalitarian. I’m Wesleyan/Holiness. Beating me with your “women must know their place, and their place is __________” or your Reformed system of biblical interpretation isn’t going to make me change my mind. Look down on me all you want. Feel superior. Tell me I’m rebellious. Tell me I am willfully ignorant.

When all is fulfilled and restored, when Heaven and earth are as one, I hope we have houses next to each other.

I firmly believe that correct doctrine is vital. I also believe that there are times when we need to make like Elsa and let it go. There’s a dying world outside our front doors. It isn’t helped by us trying to squash each other into submission.

Go ahead. Stay up in your comfortable ivory towers and talk about how everyone who doesn’t agree with you is wrong, wronger, wrongest. I have work to do.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: reenablack
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Prophet, Priest, King

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2) Gentle Reader,

Studying fundamentalist ideology can leave one with a sour taste in her mouth.

A very sour taste.

I was not raised in a fundamentalist home. I wore pants, played sports, went to public school, read books. listened to music, had boyfriends and asked questions. A lot of questions. I probably drove my parents and teachers up the proverbial wall.

Now, as an adult, I’m still not a fundamentalist. The more I study the Bible and the longer I walk with Jesus, the more convinced I become that God never asks us to turn off our minds. He does not desire us to be simpletons. He does not ask us to turn lumps in the ground into mountains and then die on them. These things – anti-intellectualism and harsh stances on small issues – are often the unfortunate destinations when traveling the fundamentalist road.

Another is the sloppy interpretation and misapplication of God’s word.

I’ve come across several articles recently that take titles belonging to Christ – prophet, priest and king – and transfer them to husbands. (I won’t link to any – save one – of the articles here because this is a definite instance of not wanting to drive traffic to the sites. You can locate them via a simple Google search).

I have a problem with that.

A real problem.

This piece has been under my skin for days. I realize that the author makes it a point to quote Paul’s admonition that husband’s are love their wives as Christ loved the church (sacrificially, even to the point of death; Ephesians 5:25) and I’ll give him credit for that. Still there are problems:

It has been widely accepted that Christ’s activity on behalf of the church can be summarized in these three functional titles: Prophet, Priest and King. A brief look at each will give us keen insight into our role as husbands.

Christ as Prophet: A prophet is someone who brings forth the Word of God to mankind. He is responsible for accurately discerning what God is saying and communicating that to others. Christ performed this prophetic role perfectly in two ways. First, He accurately spoke and taught the Word and words of God to others. Second, He was the actual expression of God and the Word made flesh.

The Husband as Prophet: We have the amazing privilege of bringing forth the Word of God to our wives. While this might involve some actual Bible-teaching time, we need to see the various other forms this should take. We can proclaim His Word and His will as we counsel our wives, as we make family decisions and as we plan for our family’s future. The common ingredient in all of its forms is God’s Word. Without the Word of God, a prophet has nothing to say; his words are empty and meaningless.

In addition to bringing forth the Word in our actions, we too must personify the Word made flesh in us. We must model the truth we are teaching. We must personify what we desire our wives and our marriages to become. Without personally living the truth we proclaim, we can expect no higher praise from Christ than the Pharisees received. (Matthew 23:2-4)

Christ as Priest: A priest is an intercessor: someone who seeks God on behalf of someone else. As Priest, Jesus is constantly seeking God on our behalf. Through Him, we are made holy, righteous, and acceptable to God. Yet, this Priest is different from all others in that He did not sacrifice a lamb, dove, or bull. This Priest sacrificed Himself on our behalf.

The Husband as Priest: As we love our wives, we must serve as priest. Our wives and marriages need prayer. We have the privilege and duty of petitioning God on their behalf. We should pray for their purity, their protection, their joy, their faith, and their burdens. We should pray for their success as a wife, as a mother, and as a woman of God.

We must again follow Christ’s example and allow our priestly sacrifice to be our very selves. Hebrews 12 tells us that Jesus looked past His own sacrifice to the joy that would occur on the other side. With that in mind, look at all that your wife could become. Consider what God might want to do with her, in her, and through her. And, for that joy set before you, willingly endure when you are called to sacrifice yourself. In so doing, you will love your wife as Christ loves His church.

Christ as King: A king is someone who is supreme or preeminent. As our King, Christ deserves our honor, our praise, our obedience, and our servitude. He is in charge … the undisputed leader of the church. Paul speaks many times of Jesus as the head of the church. Yet, while this King rules and reigns, He also serves and ministers to His people. His rule is peculiar in that He models leadership by serving. He says that the greatest among His people will be those who serve. He also is an accessible King. In many courts throughout history, subjects were never permitted to be in the presence of their king. King Jesus invites us in; He leaves open the door to His throne room.

The Husband as King: Ephesians 5:23 makes it clear; the husband is the head of the wife. In essence, kingship undeniably belongs to the husband. As we embrace that, we as husbands must lead. We must lead clearly and boldly. We must be out there on the edge looking to the provision and the protection of our kingdom. To do less is to fall short of our calling to headship. The privilege is ours to rule our home.

However, we are not called simply to take our crowns and dominate our wives. We must rule as Christ rules … with humility. He modeled precisely how He wants us to love our wives. As our King, Christ knelt and washed the feet of His disciples. We must follow His example and serve. Lead boldly, yet serve. Never let the brawn of your leadership outweigh the sacrifice of your leadership. Christ kept them in perfect balance; that is our calling as well.

There’s a lot wrong here.

I make no secret of the fact that I’m not a complementarian. While I do believe that men and women complement each other, I do not believe that there are strictly defined gender roles. I don’t believe that men have one set of gifts and callings while women have another (all of 1 Corinthians 12, but especially verse 11; there is no mention here that the Spirit gives “x” only to men and “y” only to women). I don’t believe that women have to stay home and wait for the men to bring home the bacon.

Neither to I deny the innerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, so I know and accept what it says about the marital relationship. A lot of people like to skip over the whole “submit to one another” part of Ephesians 5, though (vs. 21). They gloss over the fact that a man who loves his wife sacrificially will do all he can to support her, and she in turn will have no trouble supporting and respecting him.

A lot of people read a whole lot of stuff into that passage. (And 1 Peter 3). They miss the mutuality of marriage. They forget that the two become one (Genesis 2:24).

Neither Paul nor Peter equate the husband with Christ. They never grant him an authority or position on par with Christ. None of the inspired authors of any book of the Bible ever say that a husband functions as a prophet, priest or a king for his wife.

The only way to draw such a conclusion is to read a preconceived notion of “headship” into the passages. Within this system, the Ephesians 5 verses are interpreted with the understanding that “head” means “authority.” However, the Greek kephale is not used to connote authority. It means “source” or “origin.” Consider:

1 Corinthians 11:3: “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”

Once again, Paul is dealing not with creational hierarchies but with creational sources. As we already saw, if this passage taught hierarchies it would teach the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, which was a central teaching of the Arian heresy. Thus, God being the head of Christ must refer to Christ’s source as the eternally begotten Son. And since all three pairings are compared and parallel, the other two cannot mean “authority” either. In the Greek there are not two separate words for “man/husband” and “woman/wife.” The same word is used for both English terms. Thus, the best rendering is not “husband” and “wife” here, but “the man” and “the woman.” Adam and Eve. Paul’s point in this verse is that the “source” of Adam was Christ since Christ made all things and Adam was made in the Image of Christ. And Adam is the “source” of Eve since she was drawn from his side. – Against Patriarchy, Part 6: Concerning Headship

But what about Eden? What about life before the Fall? Didn’t God set up a hierarchy? No:

Using basic principles of interpretation, one comes up with a very simple explanation of the consequence of God’s curse on Adam and Eve – a consequence that has infiltrated every home since the beginning of time. Simply put, the woman will desire to dominate or control the man, but the man, perhaps even with superior strength, will fight hard to rule over and dominate the woman. Where the curse is present there is a constant battle for control. This is how things are because of sin, not how things in the home ought to be. – God Calls Patriarchial Headship a Sinful Desire

The struggle in marriage isn’t because wives just need to put up (and out) and shut up. It’s because men and women both have a sinful desire to control and dominate. Neither was ever meant to be in authority over the other.

This teaching that men are somehow prophets, priests and kings in marriage strays dangerously close to Mormon ideas about the role of men. (I don’t have time to get into this right now, but please do some digging of your own). It also strays dangerously close to the Catholic idea of an alter Christus, or “another Christ.” Further, this teaching conveniently forgets that women are part of the “chosen generation, the royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). It is a direct appeal to the male ego. Sadly, it sets women up for abuse. (I do not claim that every marriage within a fundamentalist framework is abusive. I’m simply saying that it’s not a long leap from the ideas to the abuse).

I love my husband. I love him dearly. I respect him. But there is no way, no how, he is my prophet, priest or king. Those are functions and offices specifically and clearly filled by Christ. I cannot subscribe to any system that promotes, even unknowingly, the usurpation of His rightly exalted position.

My journey to faith. (15)

Not the Fundamentals: Roles

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Gentle Reader,

Volumes have been written on complementarian (men and women have different roles or functions, based on gender) and egalitarian (gender is not a factor) roles in the church. A simple Google search will provide you with a myriad of articles, scholarly and otherwise, on the topics. Therefore, I will not use this space in outlining the arguments.

Instead, I’d like to point out that it is possible to be both complementarian (of a different sort) and egalitarian.

Each role or ministry gifting in the Body is meant to complement another. A preacher won’t have much success in preaching if he doesn’t have a place to give his sermon. A teacher won’t have a class to teach if nobody knows when they’re supposed to meet. All the monetary giving in the world won’t make a difference if there isn’t a person to organize and disperse it. A nursery can’t function with a toddler in charge.

As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:1-15:13, every Christian has a part to play. Every part of the Body is necessary. And nobody – NOBODY – but Christ is the Head. All are to function based on His direction and His discretion in gifting.

I have been in churches where the complementary nature of gifts and roles were interpreted as gender-related in nature. Women did the nursery work, organized the potlucks, kept the church clean and sang in choirs or worship bands. Men did the preaching and the teaching. This is based largely on 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”) and 1 Corinthians 14:34 (“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says”). No discussion of context, either textual or historical, occurred.

In these churches, I felt frustrated. I don’t like to cook and I’m not good at it. Babies in groups larger than two overwhelm me. Nobody wants me to sing. Sure, I can clean, but my parents taught my brother and I both to take care of things. We all lived in the house, so we were all supposed to pitch in. I often wondered if I was rebellious or wrong somehow, to have no desire to participate in these women’s areas. I wanted to teach. (I still want to teach). It never mattered to me who I was teaching. It could be a 5-year-old or a 50-year-old. Man or woman. I just wanted to share what I had learned with others so that we could grow together.

As you might guess, I am now in an egalitarian church. The process in getting there was difficult. My husband and I spent months questioning. He wondered why he was drawn to children’s ministry, the usual purview of the ladies. I wondered why I was drawn to heavy theological discussion. Without realizing it, we were questioning God Himself. Had the Lord messed up? Had He meant to grace me with children’s ministry and my husband with teaching? Did the signals get crossed?

That, to me, is the great danger of understanding complementarianism from a gender-based viewpoint. Each man and woman are given different gifts, to be sure, but trying to assign men __________ roles and women ___________ roles puts the Lord in a box. It puts His people in a box. And it also exposes our prejudices. Many strict complementarian churches are happy to support women missionaries. Do they honestly believe that these women will not preach to mixed-gender audiences? Is this overlooked as some kind of necessary evil until native, male pastors rise up? Or is it quite simply fine for a Western woman to preach and teach a non-Western man?

You be the judge.

There are dangers in the egalitarian framework, too. I may have the gift of teaching, but I do my Lord, my church and myself a disservice if I refuse to exercise that gift in anything other than a mixed-gender group. My pastor is a man and there isn’t anything inherently anti-woman in that. If we start getting into an affirmative-action mindset, if we start pursuing a certain quota of women in certain positions, we end up placing limits on the Lord.

The thing that both complementarians and egalitarians must realize is that the Lord will do what He sees fit. He will raise up to whatever position whoever He wills. Just as He marked out the changing of the seasons from winter to spring, so too does He mark out different ministry seasons. I’m teaching children right now. I never, ever imagined that I would be doing that. And yet I feel no less fulfilled, no less useful, than when I taught adults. Whenever this chapter comes to a close, I know He’ll have something good for me.

Focusing on gender, from whatever stance, causes us to lock out half the church. The Body needs men. The Body needs women. We all need each other.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all the posts in the Not the Fundamentals series, go here.