Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

May God richly bless each and every one of you in the coming year. I am praying that 2011 will be a year of harvest where God's glory will be revealed to many and His Kingdom will a blessing to the whole earth.

Each of you who have persevered in coming back to this blog have been a blessing to me. Thank you and may God pour out his grace and mercy on each of you.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas from Middle Earth

We have some great Christmas traditions out here in Middle Earth. No, not in this Muslim culture but at our house. One of my favorites is the Carol Sing. Every year we stuff as many homesick expatriots into our house as we can and sing Christmas Carols for four hours or so. It always starts with my wife at the piano and us all singing hymns out of the Hymnal and slowly degenerates to the Karaoke where we go from Winter Wonderland to the inevitable Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. Last night we had over fifty people in our living room at one point and a great time was had by all. We had truckloads of fancy sweets and cookies. The highlight of the evening is usually my daughter Goldberry and I singing O Holy Night but last night we also sang the much lesser known One Small Child which was beautiful not least because Goldberry coming home from University was unexpected and a great joy in its own right. Just so you know I do sing Rudolf the Rednose Reindeer with a red flashlight on my nose every year and last night was no exception. When I think of Christmas I think of my Lord and how His coming has made our remarkable community possible. I love our community. They are special, extremely cool, dedicated people who love the Lord and are committed to bringing hope to a very dark and desperate place in this world. We sing and laugh and hug each other and part knowing that though we will each face remarkable trials we will each be there for the other over the coming year. On Saturday several of the families will gather again at our house where I will have a Turkey and some of my homemade stuffing. A good friend of mine is coming up with a ham! It will be a great day full of love and good friends and family. This is Christmas to me.

This morning my daughter Goldberry got up early and went out with a local fellowship. When she came back she walked in the door and fell into my arms and sobbed and cried uncontrollably for nearly ten minutes. I wondered if something terrible had happened but between sobs I understood that they had been to the local orphanage for handicapped children. Whatever you are thinking about how bad it could be there you are wrong. It is much worse. These children are not just blind, or have Downs syndrome, or are crippled. They each have several of these issues to deal with and are living in one of the poorest institutions in one of the poorest Countries in the world. Goldberry went with a local church group that gave gifts and sang songs. They even did a short play on the Good Samaritan. My daughter spent most of her time holding a two year old boy who had no eyes and clubbed feet. She told me about the young autistic boy with boundless energy who exasperated his caregivers by continually bolting for the door. She told me about the little boy who sang songs about everything all the time and in spite of having empty sockets where eyes should be he was continually happy. She told me about the little girl who danced in circles with joy for their coming though she couldn't use her hands and her cleft palate made speech difficult.

Christmas is a reminder to me of the community that Jesus came to establish but it is also a reminder to me of the war He came to declare. Jesus coming to the world was a declaration of war on the evil forces mankind has unleashed on itself. The forces of Hell are trying to mar dehumanize the image bearers of God and Jesus has come to declare that our enemy's power is broken. We declare this with every song of hope and joy that we sing, with every love-soaked hug that we give, with every generous act of compassion we share. The Christ is born in a humble manger as a poor baby in a small insignificant place for a reason. He is the way. Our way is not with the politically powerful, nor with the wealthy, nor with the cunning. Our way lies with the meek, clothed in forgiveness, full of grace and peace. When we live this way we bring His Kingdom and in the wake of His Kingdom injustice fails, falsehood is overthrown, and poor blind children are held and loved forever.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Fredegar's Miracle

My friend Fredegar the lawyer had an opportunity to go down to Mordor. He saw a local believer there and got to encourage him as he faced imprisonment and trial for his faith in Jesus. They may yet execute him but time will tell. It was really great that Fregegar got to see him and encourage him two days before he had to face a council of Islamic leaders who demanded that he return to Islam. He stood strong in his faith and testified to the love and grace of God through Jesus. I am not sure he would have had the courage had he continued to believe he was abandoned and alone.

Fredegar came back last Saturday and arrived in the middle of the night. He jumped in a taxi and went home. Upon arriving home he got out and the car drove off will his bags! It was dark and he couldn't see the license plate number and he assumed that his computer and all his documents were lost forever. The next night a guy called him and offered to sell him his computer for $3000. Fredegar laughed at him and he came down to $2000. Fredegar told him that he could buy two new computers for that price and the guy hung up. The next day a guy called and said if he would meet him at midnight at a remote park he would give him his documents back. Fredegar is not a complete fool and told him he should call him tomorrow during the day. The guy didn't call. We were in a team meeting hearing about all these events and praying for Fredegar when he got a call from a local pastor. He took the call and went at once to the church. Some ladies had found a bag at the park and found the documents in it and realized that they were very important. They took the bag to the US Embassy but since Fredegar is not an American they took no interest. They searched through the bag and found one receipt in the local language. It happened to be a receipt from the local church for some materials Fredegar had purchased some time before. Fredegar doesn't even go to that church regularly! So, the ladies took the bag to the church and now Fredegar has his passport and other important lawyer type documents. For you it may be another lawyer story but for Fredegar it is surely a Christmas miracle.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Dazed and Confused: Women in Ministry part next

In my last post I gave a long introduction to what I am writing about and now in this post I want to get some scriptures written down and evaluated. My intention is not a full exegesis but a list of scriptures with the questions I have about them.

In the beginning God... yes, let's start in the beginning. We note that God made man and woman in His image. In chapter two of Genesis we have a cool story about Adam going to sleep and God creating woman from his side. Some make a big deal of this story concerning the roles of men and women. I don't see any roles at all. Woman is a helper to man. Well, yeah but don't we all want to be helpful. As we look at what it means to be meek and to submit to others is this not the basis for all loving relationships? In my mind there are two ways to relate to people: We can love them by considering them better than ourselves (Philipians 2) or we can use them and manipulate them for our own ends(Jesus' definition of worldly leaders). The word 'helper' gets a bad rap if we think of helper in the sense of our maid or some kind of worldly definition of a servant. Isn't that what Jesus came to turn up on its head? Isn't the Holy Spirit the one who comes alongside and comforts us, helps us, guides us, encourages us? I see this original relationship as something intimate but when some people then conclude, "And that is why a woman can't be a pastor" I can't see it. Eve was not a position she was a person. She lived and loved and served and I am not willing to shackle today's women based on this story. I don't think that Genesis 2 can be used to address this issue without us losing the meaning that it was intended to have.

But what about the curse in Genesis 3? I have heard lots of teachings on these verses that basically say that the curse says that the 'woman's desire shall be for her husband and he shall rule over her.' There you have it straight out. Men are to rule their wives. But I have a couple of questions here. One, if the curse in chapter three is that women are to be ruled by the men then doesn't that presume that that was not the case before the fall? So, if the work of Christ is to undo the the work of sin- and the curse- then would that not mean that in the New Covenant that men should most certainly not rule over their wives? And secondly, why is it that some teach that women have to respect the curse in verse 16 but in verse 17 and 18 no one teaches that we should not use fertilizers and pesticides to make farming easier? If the curse is what God wants for us why do women have to submit to it but men are encouraged to fight against it? The more I think this through the less I am convinced that it was God's original plan for man to rule over women much less His plan for now.

Regardless of what we think God's original plan was or the intentions of the curse men most certainly did rule over the women after this. Patriarchy defines family life in the Old Testament. We know about Noah and we know he had a wife but we don't know her name. We know that Abraham had a wife and we know her name but it was most certainly through his son Isaac that the line of promise is passed. I say this because if you read through Genesis you see the story of the Patriarchs. But if you look to the genealogy of Jesus you see several- not just one or two- women mentioned. Apparently, in spite of the whole 'Patriarchy is the fabric of society' thing women have a huge role in salvation history. In fact, we know there were something like 613 laws in the Old Covenant. That's a lot of legislation. While many of them are particular to men or women none of them delineate specific roles for them except for the priest. Priest were a special class who could approach God in the Temple in a way no one else could. We don't know why women were excluded- there are no verses I know that explain God's reasoning for this and Him being God I don't demand that He explain everything- but women were not allowed to be priest. That is a specific role difference. Deborah was a Judge though, and a good one. There were also a couple of queens who were not so good. So, apparently the role deal did not extend past the priesthood. Women did exercise positional authority over men in the Old Testament and there was no rule against this. A lot of people disagree with this conclusion but I don't know what else to do. There is no law forbidding a woman to rule in the Old Testament and Deborah did. I have heard some complementarians complain and say, 'I am tired of hearing about Deborah' but that does not seem to be either an argument nor an explanation.

Moving to the New Testament there are several must see passages on this issue. Since I myself am a very practical guy there is no argument stronger for limiting women's roles than the fact that Jesus called twelve men to be his main disciples. That he had women ministering with him in so many other ways only emphasizes the fact that women somehow 'couldn't' be among the Twelve. Jesus teaches women, gives them opportunities to serve, he honors them, he protects them, and I think most significantly he appears first to a woman after his resurrection. I have heard some extreme complementarians argue that a woman can not preach and certainly should not teach a man but Jesus encouraged both. If good preaching is to proclaim the resurrection then according to scriptures a woman did it first and she proclaimed it to men. Mary was the first apostle and she was sent to the Apostles!

Paul dealt with the Church as it was being established. Jesus replaces the 613 laws with one law, the law of love. Paul then has to explain to the young believers how to understand that one law. I see in Paul's writings a desire for two things. One, he is calling the church to love God and each other well and two, and he spends a lot of time here, he wants everything we do to advance the Kingdom. Paul is very big on Christian liberty and he never wants believers shackled to a set of rules but he also exhorts us to never use our liberty in a way that will hinder the spread of the Gospel. As we look through the things Paul says to the Church it is important to keep these two types of teachings separate. One, declares how we should love and is eternal. The other declares how we should behave honorably in society and is contingent on culture. To wit, sexual immorality is always wrong because it abuses yourself and others in unloving ways. But wearing a headscarf may or may not be the best way for a person to demonstrate that they are respectable. The first is always true, the second depends on the culture. When we confuse these two we end up either acting selfishly or ridiculously and neither gives glory to God.

And so we come to the first of the difficult passages 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. If anyone can make sense of these verses be my guest. It starts out by Paul commending the Corinthian church for doing something right. They remembered the teachings and traditions he gave them. He then says that the head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. If this verse were by itself or even if we skip to verse 11 where he makes clear that men and women are not independent we would not have much of an issue. We are interdependent as designed by God. We are to submit to one another. The man is the head, fine but what on earth is he talking about in the intermediate verses? He says that a man must not pray or prophesy with his head covered but in Jewish tradition they DID cover their heads. He says that a woman must cover her head because of.... angels? Or does he mean 'messengers' there? And what do you mean it is shameful for a man to have long hair? How does 'nature' teach us this and have you ever seen a picture of Jesus without long hair? Well, I am not writing a commentary and I don't have to answer all these questions. What I can say is that the husband is the head of the wife. They say that here in the culture I work in too. They say the husband is the head and the wife is the neck and she turns him where she wants. But all that aside what I don't see is men/women roles in Church. If the husband is the head of the wife does that mean she can not perform some roles or exercise some gifts? I don't see that it does. So, while I am a bit confused by this passage I am not going to let it push me to demand that women do or do not do anything. As a man my responsibility to my wife is to be the head. For me, taken in the context of Jesus teaching on leadership and authority I must serve my wife. I must disciple my wife and help her to become what Jesus is making her to become. She serves me as well. We function together. I see this but I don't automatically toss out Jesus teaching on servant leadership and start talking about that woman doing what I say. I certainly don't start making illogical connections of, 'If the husband is the head then the woman can't be a pastor because she would then have authority over a man.' What? But bear with me as we move on to 1 Corinthians 14 and then to Timothy.

1 Corinthians 14 bothered me for a long time. Verse 4 says that the one who prophesies builds up the church. We know that Philip had four daughters who were prophetesses. We think of Anna who prophesied over the young Jesus in the temple. We all know women who speak the truth of God well. Paul goes on in verse 26 saying let each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation... Paul is encouraging everyone to participate orderly. But in verse 34 Paul demands that all the women keep silent in the churches for they are not permitted to speak. Now I know that most have ignored this verse not knowing what to make of it and that bothers me. I don't want to throw out a command just because I don't understand it. Some have interpreted this to mean that when the church meets in the big church building on Sunday morning that the women can't speak in the service. That is an anachronism. When Paul wrote this he was writing to small groups of people who were meeting regularly- not just Sundays- in their own homes. In fact, one of the groups met in Chloe's home. Paul even intimates that Chloe was the leader of that group as he refers to 'Chloe's people'. Do you think Paul was saying Chloe could not speak in her own home, with her own friends? I was confused about this for a long time. Then someone pointed something out that should have been obvious. He says that the women should be silent 'as the Law also says'. Where does it say that? Is there one verse in the Old Testament that says that women should be silent? In all 613 different laws that one is not there. So, what is he talking about. He is talking about the oral law that Jesus got after the Pharisees about. It was the highly abusive over the top oral law that Jesus condemned that Paul is quoting. So, is Paul forbidding women to speak or is he quoting his opponents here? If he is quoting his opponents then the verses following demanding that people not be contentious and forbidding people to make up their own rules certainly take on a different meaning! To be honest though, it does not seem very obvious from our English translation that he is now quoting his opponents. For me, the fact that he is quoting the oral law is enough to prove that 'women keeping silent' was not Paul's desire but I would not feel I had a very strong argument in insisting that you see it that way. We need more verses and more clarity.

1 Timothy 2. Verse 8 asks men to pray lifting holy hands- yeah, most of us don't but ok. Verse 9 women shouldn't 'adorn' themselves with fancy clothes but be dressed modestly and with 'good works'. Ok, I am cool with that. Verse 11, 'Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.' That sounds good to me. I think we should ALL learn quietly in all submissiveness. Again, remember the context of house church that they were living in. Remember Mary and Martha? Martha was running around serving and while Mary was doing what? Sitting quietly and submissively. In our big western churches we have everything under control and this command is well enforced. We all sit in pews, in rows, facing forward and we know to sit still and listen respectfully. In the house church we do things a little differently. Everyone is sitting on the floor in a circle and the host is very busy hosting. Remember Chloe? I guarantee you she was serving tea more than once when she should have been listening. Submissively? Oh man, you get a bunch of people on the floor in a circle and you get to talking and order can go out the window in a hurry. I have no problem with the proper application of these verses. I am telling you that in context these were necessary instructions. The men should pray, the women should dress modestly (and not to impress others), and the women should sit quietly and listen to what was being taught submissively. Yep, it is all clear and easily understandable and applicable in the house church context. But he doesn't stop there. Verse 12 says, 'I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.' This verse- in context with the following verses that make clear Paul is speaking of a universal principle based on Adam and Eve- is the biggest headache to both egalitarians and complementarians. How on earth are we to understand this? Some complementarians say simplistic things like 'just believe it'. Believe what? Women teach all the time. My mom taught me tons. Let me remind you again that in our proper western big church meeting on Sunday morning in the big building we have fooled ourselves into thinking that the application of this verse is simply not to let a woman speak from the pulpit but this verse says nothing about that because pulpits did not exist then. Paul was speaking to small groups of people who called themselves the Church. Church was not a meeting or a building. It was the people gathered together. Women shouldn't teach? How could they not? But maybe we should put teaching into the context of the verse and say they should not teach and have authority. That is usually where this discussion goes. The issue is not so much that a woman can't teach- tell what they have learned about God- but that they can't be in authority. The word used for authority here is an ugly manipulative word for authority by the way. One of my issues when this is discussed is that by the time Pastor so-and-so is finished explaining why a woman should not have authority over a man I don't want him to have authority either. I looked up authority on Wikipedia and it confirmed my culturally conditioned reservations:

Essentially authority is imposed by superiors upon inferiors either by force of arms (structural authority) or by force of argument (sapiential authority). Usually authority has components of both compulsion and persuasion. For this reason, as used in Roman law, authority is differentiated potestas legal or military power and imperium persuasive political rank or standing.

So, you can see from Wikipedia that really no one, much less women, should have this kind of authority over another. We have leaders- those who have influence- and we have those who are responsible- those whom God has gifted and is holding accountable for the usage of those gifts- but authority belongs to God alone. For me this is the heart of the whole discussion. Who is in charge? It seems that too many read the scriptures decide what they mean and then take over and manipulate everyone else to do what they think should be done. A lot of violence has been done to women in this regard. Woman whom Jesus freed and gifted to serve get told what to do by authoritarian men. As a former pastor myself I both understand this and abhor it. The pastoral gift was meant to empower people to find the power of God in their lives and unleash it to serve in their communities. Too many pastors have behaved as if the authority was theirs. They have decided what a person can do and limited that person to doing what was in the pastor's plans and not what was in God's design. This is all just a theoretical debate until a woman comes along and seeks counsel. When a real person seeking God's will comes along and the church says, 'No, you can't be a pastor. You are mistaken in what God has gifted you to do.' This now is dangerous ground. Do you really have the authority to say this. No, you don't. You have no authority at all. God's Word is our authority and I am a long way from a definitive answer on this.

The problem lies in our application as I have said. If we interpret these verses to mean that a woman should never teach then why did Paul work with women who taught. Lydia, Pheobe, Priscilla, the list goes on and on. Paul had multitudes of co-laborers who were women as did Jesus. So, can a woman be a chaplain? We used to say yes, now Southern Baptists are saying no. Why or why not? If we interpret this too strictly then we can't even have women teaching boys in Sunday School. The glaring inconsistencies are ridiculous. I mean, if Jesus teaches that the greatest among us are to be the servants and that is how to become the greatest leader then surely the pastors in our churches should be kicking the women out of the fellowship halls and doing the dishes themselves. But that doesn't happen. It doesn't happen because we don't really believe this. We understand that servanthood is much more than doing the dishes and we understand that teaching is much more than delivering a 30 minute speech on Sunday morning.

At the end of the day we must be much more discerning when it comes to these issues. We need to stop making decisions based on protecting our positions of power and really try to understand what God is doing in the life of that person who is seeking our advice. We need to stop making blanket statements about what women can't do and prayerfully empower them to do that which God is calling them to.

At this point you might be saying, 'Hey Strider, are you not an IMB missionary and should you not be acting in accordance with the BFM 2000? Well, actually I do. The BFM says that the office of pastor is limited to men. So far in the ministry that God has blessed me with God has only brought along men who were pastors. In the first church we planted it had a woman pastor (two co-leaders really) for a while but only because they were all women! Once a discipled man showed up they encouraged him to exercise his obvious pastoral gift. I didn't have to pull out 1 Timothy and beat the women over the head with it. The Holy Spirit gifted a pastor and the Church recognized him.

As far as where I am now on this journey I remain a reluctant complementarian, sort of... depending on the day. I would love to be an egalitarian and just give men and women equal rights and responsibilities. I will say this though. I don't like any of the talk of the current flavor complementarians. They say women are separate but equal. That was said about the blacks in the fifties and it has the same meaning then as now. Separate is not equal. Many conservative Christians are crying foul about this subject. They say that egalitarians are 'liberals' who are caving into 'worldly' ways. Let me just say that that is utter nonsense. In Western society there is an extremely small percentage of battered and abused women who hate men and are very militant about their feminist stance. Numbers-wise this is like .0001 percent of people today. A billion Muslims, 3/4 of a billion hindus, half a billion Budhists, and countless animists, still see men as superior to women. Fear not, my fundamentalist friend your numbers are yet strong. For me, I want to see women empowered to fulfill everything God is calling them to do. They do this best (same as me) when they are encouraged and empowered to believe that with God all things are possible and that the heroes of faith recorded in the Bible, far from being exceptional, are all models that we are called to transcend. God forbid that a Deborah came my way and I discouraged her from pursuing her calling.